How does one write an introduction discussing a living legend? A difficult task, more so when said living legend is a dear friend and someone I’ve been reading diligently since I was eleven years of age . . . If you’ve read Writer Volume 1, then you already know that Dick Lupoff is one of those people who can write engagingly on any subject, whether it be obscure baseball lore such as the history of the House of David or the more esoteric features appearing in Whiz Comics to the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. In my case, I read a number of items before I connected the name to what I was reading.
At age eleven, (yes, I know the “Golden Age” of SF is twelve, but excuse me for being a tad precocious), there were many things I enjoyed reading but uppermost on the list would be comic books and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ tales of John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus, and his wonderful series set at the Earth’s core. For some reason I never got the appeal of Lord Greystoke as a kid, though that was remedied years later . . . In any event, after exhausting the Barsoom series, I was thrilled to find a book about Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books! The volume in question was Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure, and while the author’s name meant nothing to me, the book carried what to my way of thinking then was the seal of quality, a cover by Frank Frazetta . . .
A couple of years later I stumbled on another book that dealt with a favorite subject, the “Golden Age” of comics. The book was All in Color for a Dime, a volume that should still be on the shelf of any serious comic collector over forty years after its publication. Readers today are spoiled by the ready availability of so much Golden Age material; for example, I need only reach across my desk in order to lay my hands on large hardcover volumes reprinting the likes of the Justice Society of America, Simon & Kirby’s Sandman, the complete solo adventures of Dr. Fate and the Spectre from More Fun comics, the Green Lama, the original Daredevil, and what was for any kid growing up in the 1960s with an interest in the Golden Age, the holy grail, the original Captain Marvel!
Now when we’re talking about the comic collecting world forty years ago, long before eBay and the Internet made it possible for readers to find pretty much anything they wanted in a matter of minutes, one had to deal with a high-priced mail-order dealer or be lucky enough to have a much older brother or uncle pass his comics on to you. For those of us reading about the early years of comics while living in the “Silver Age”, it was difficult to imagine a time when instead of two major companies (Marvel & DC), with a handful of minor players, (Charlton, Mighty, Dell, ACG, etc.) there were well over a dozen major companies offering a bewildering selection of titles. However, then as now, cream rose to the top and the general consensus as shown by prices on the secondary market and the enthusiasm of the readership in the 1940s was that the best of all was a character named “Captain Marvel”.
The character of Captain Marvel was beyond clever in its conception; prior to the good Captain, kids had to make the stretch to identify with the adult superhero or settle for identifying with the kid sidekick. Now here was a whole different scenario. Captain Marvel, despite his resemblance to a younger and more muscular Fred MacMurray, was really Billy Batson, a kid that anyone of the same general age could identify with. Dick’s piece on Captain Marvel was sufficient to make me try and search out any affordable issues of Whiz Comics that I could find.
As of yet, I hadn’t connected the author of the Barsoom book with the comics historian, nor did I have any notion that the remarkably entertaining pieces by “Ova Hamlet” in the pages of Amazing Stories were in any way connected to the author of stories such as “12:01 P.M.”, “Musspelsheim”, and “With the Evening News”. I finally started connecting the dots when FAX Publishing came out with their edition of The Return of Skull-Face in 1977. I’ll admit now that I approached the book with some skepticism . . . By this time I’d read every word of Robert E. Howard that was in print and a considerable amount of material from old issues of Weird Tales and his two Arkham House collections, Skull-Face & Others and The Dark Man. I had also come to realize that a goodly amount of the posthumous collaborations, particularly the de Camp/Carter material, was (to not put too fine a point on it), utter crap. While L. Sprague de Camp was a fine author on his own or with Fletcher Pratt, his wry sense of humor clashed badly with Howard’s straightforward approach, and Carter’s contributions to the Conan series were the worst sort of fanboy pastiche.
“Skull-Face”, with its Rohmeresque Gothic atmosphere had always been one of my favorite Howard yarns, and while I had no idea how this Lupoff chap would handle Howard’s material, I was at least encouraged by looking over the Lupoff tales that I had in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science-Fiction and various Roger Elwood anthologies. To say that The Return of Skull-Face wildly exceeded any possible expectations on my part would be a gross understatement. Dick Lupoff nailed the style and nuances of Howard doing Rohmer perfectly. To this day, I can’t tell where the Howard manuscript leaves off and where Dick’s work begins. It’s just that seamless a transition. From that point forward, I didn’t just read Richard Lupoff stories as I came across them, I made it a point to seek his work out . . .
Since that day over thirty-five years ago, I’ve been enriched by making it a point to seek out Dick’s work. At roughly the same time that The Return of Skull-Face saw print, his mythos tale “Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” appeared in Roy Torgeson’s Chrysalis. Not only was it the best story in the anthology (no small feat in a book with work by Ellison, Grant, Sturgeon, Lynn & others), but it remains one of the best Mythos stories written by anyone . . . Then of course, there were a variety of novels, from the remarkable Sword of the Demon to the duo of Circumpolar and Countersolar . . . And of course, many more stories, a large amount of which have been collected in volumes such as Terrors, Dreams, Visions, and Claremont Tales. Then there were the terrific (if a bit controversial) anthologies of What If, wherein Dick awards the Hugos that should have been doled out. Then there are the noteworthy mystery series, which began with The Comic Book Killer in 1988 and is still going strong with The Emerald Cat Killer in 2012.
However, all of the aforementioned work, while well worth your time seeking out, has little to do with the present volume . . . You see, another arena in which Dick excels is that of the essayist and reviewer. Yes, sometimes the label of “critic” is applied, but it won’t be used by me as I hold to the definitions as follows: A “critic” will tell you why you’re supposed to appreciate a particular work, just as a dietician may sing the praises of a particularly loathsome vegetable as it is good for you. A reviewer, (and I harken back to the self-applied description furnished by the late, great A. J. Budrys), serves as sort of an investment counselor, letting you know whether or not in his or her opinion a book is worth your time and money . . . To me, this is a far more valuable service than the one provided by the critic, so I hope that Dick doesn’t take offense by being called a “reviewer”.
The material in this book contains a generous amount of review material, ranging from the early days of Andrew Porter’s Algol/Starship in the 1960s to much more recent material from the venerable newspaper of the science fiction field, Locus. That’s not to imply that Writer Volume II is limited to book reviews, (though were that the case, you would certainly be getting your money’s worth). I have also invoked the term “essayist”, and as I stated much earlier, Dick Lupoff is that rare sort of author who can write compellingly on any subject and bring it to life. Whether he’s discussing the first full-time female science fiction author, Clare Winger Harris, the history of the original Captain Marvel, or the batting averages of the baseball players who participated in the House of David; he’s going to draw you in, entertain, educate, and enrich; regardless of the subject matter. The authors that can do this consistently can likely be counted on the fingers of one hand . . . For my money, Dick Lupoff joins Harlan Ellison and Graham Greene in that very small, very illustrious company where I’ll read anything they’ve written on any subject, even if it’s something that has previously been of no interest to me whatsoever.
The great news for readers of this three-volume set is that you likely haven’t found these books by accident. You’re likely a Ramble House reader which presupposes an interest in science fiction, mystery, or the just plain unusual. That being the case, that’s exactly the sort of thing that you’ll see covered herein. Whether Dick’s discussing contemporary SF, his time in the armed forces, his love of the Great American Game, or the works that should have won the Hugo Award and didn’t, there’s going to be something here to stimulate your thinking, and after all, isn’t that what being a Writer is all about? Enjoy!