31 March 2007

WHC 2007: It's The Nice Ones You Gotta Watch

I was unable to attend this year's World Horror Convention, which was held in Toronto for the first time, but thankfully, some of the event's more distinguished guests (some of the literary genre's true giants) spared an hour to meet local fans at the World's Biggest Bookstore**, not far from the host venue Toronto Marriot Eaton Centre. In person: Brian Lumley, F. Paul Wilson, Ramsey Campbell, David Morrell, this year's Grand Master winner Joe R. Lansdale, and legendary cartoonist/writer Gahan Wilson. There was a time when I read nothing but horror fiction, but that was more than a decade-and-a-half ago (my tastes broadened, if not necessarily matured) and truth is, I approached the signing feeling more than a little out-of-touch with the scene.

I've been a long-time fan of Gahan Wilson (right photo) ever since I first discovered his delightfully grotesque and surreal cartoons in the late, much-missed National Lampoon magazine, gags that regularly broke the taboo of child endangerment. Of course, in time I saw his work in "Playboy" (articles only) and "The New Yorker" (believe it or not, some of their cartoons are legitimately funny), and discovered that he was as accomplished a prose writer as he was an artist (he had a story published in Harlan Ellison's "Dangerous Visions", the most essential s.f. reading of the last century). As he scribbled his distinctive signature in the cartoon collections I had fortunately purchased while they were in print, as well as some jaundiced back issues of Nat Lamp, Gahan lamented on the passing of the publication as a comedic institution, and on how fellow cartoonist Sam Gross currently keeps tabs on unauthorized reprints for which contributors, like himself, have not been paid.

These days, National Lampoon endures--barely--as a crappy website and a meaningless above-the-title label ala "Van Wilder", "Senior Trip", "Dorm Daze", and other titles too depressing to contemplate, but its anarchic spirit lives on in "The Daily Show", "South Park", and Adult Swim fare from which a huge debt is owed to founding fathers Miller, Hughes, O'Rourke, O'Donaghue, Kelly, Hendra, Hughes, and of course, Wilson.

F. Paul Wilson--no, they're not related--might best be known as the author of "The Keep", which served as the basis for Michael Mann's much-maligned second feature film in 1983. But he's written several sequels to that excellent WW2-based supernatural thriller, dozens of short stories, and non-fiction on politics and economic theory--when not practicing as a doctor. He's been winning kudos for the "Repairman Jack" saga, which I've not read. He signed my copy of the series' first entry, "The Tomb", and suggested I turn to eBay to obtain a bootleg copy of "The Keep", since Mann is embarrassed by the film (which I think is flawed but visually striking--the period equivalent of a Fulci thriller) and is the chief hurdle in its long-overdue release on DVD.

Brian Lumley has been writing horror and science fiction since the early 70s, when he published a series of tales inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's "Cthulu" mythos. After retiring from the British military in 1980, he conceived the "Necroscope" saga--to which there are nearly a dozen entries--which chronicles the adventures of "necroscope" (a type of psychic) Harry Keogh and his battle with interdimensional vampires. Again, I was somewhat embarrassed in that I've not read a "Necroscope" tale nor anything of Lumley's beyond the odd story in a horror anthology (for the event, I bought a collection of his tales), but he was gracious all the same and is definitely an author whose works I want to explore more thoroughly as--if--time permits.

David Morrell will likely be forever known as the creator of "Rambo"--he wrote the 1972 novel "First Blood" on which the famed Sylvester Stallone/Ted Kotcheff film was freely adapted, and gets a credit in the sequels (for which he also wrote the novelizations). As with Lumley, I knew of Morrell's stories from collections, but have never actually read one of his books. His newest is "Scavenger", which I plan to read if I can ever clear my shelves of the dozen-plus other half-finished novels I've got on-the-go. Morrell lamented the loss of horror fiction mags like Midnight Marquee and T.E.D. Klein's "Twilight Zone", which in its day was the source for new horror fiction (I think I bought every issue from 1982 until its demise in 1988).

If you haven't read any Joe R. Lansdale (left photo) you're denying yourself the pleasure of one of the genre's most inventive and witty iconoclasts. Chances are you've heard of the cult film "Bubba Ho Tep", which he adapted from his short story with "Phantasm" creator Don Coscarelli, and you might have caught the debut episode of "Masters Of Horror" season one: "Incident On And Off A Mountain Road", a superbly shot and paced nailbiter with a devastating twist. Joe mentioned that he was very happy with his Coscarelli collaborations, and that "Bubba Nosferatu" is still in the planning stages. I asked him about his screenplay based upon his own "Dead In The West", to which he laughed and said has been sold "about 11 times", has made him "a ton of money", and is currently owned by a production company in France.

The reality that Ramsey Campbell (middle photo) isn't as famous as Stephen King, Anne Rice, or Clive Barker is a depressing thing indeed. Not that he seems to mind--he was one of the happiest authors I've ever met. A master of psychological terror and quiet dread, Campbell, like Lumley, began his career with U.K.-set Lovecraft homages, even striking up a correspondence with Lovecraft's collaborator August Derleth. Eventually, he found his own voice, and has enjoyed a prolific career as novelist and critic. Ramsey confirmed he will be contributing another column to his "Ramsey's Ramblings" in next month's Video Watchdog, this time, he'll explore Gaspar Noe's punishing revenge drama "Irreversible". And some good news for me: apparently, no one has the option on his "Ancient Images", one of the only novels I've read that made me immediately want to purchase film rights (I wonder if Ramsey would consider "Pound Sprogs", the equivalent of King's "Dollar Babies"?). Wish me luck: Neil Labute's "Wicker Man" remake has done much to damage mainstream audiences' opinion of pagans. And you can read Ramsey's weekly film and DVD recommendations here at the BBC's homepage.

A few minutes before the authors arrived, an irate and quite vocal fan demanded to see a manager and scolded him as to why no Gahan Wilson books were available--to which the hapless employee calmy replied: "There aren't any left in print".

While Angry Dude's manners (and fact-checking) left something to be desired, he had a bit of a point: it's hard to find this stuff on mainstream bookstore shelves at any time of the year. "Horror" is generally awarded a single-half wall somewhere near the sci-fi or mystery (or worse, "anonymous erotica") sections, if there's one at all. Door stoppers by King, Rice, and Koontz are usually in steady supply, but even Clive Barker's works are scarce these days. Campbell, Morrell, Lumley, Wilson(s), Lansdale, Bentley Little, Poppy Z. Brite, Michael McDowell, Jack Ketchum, David J. Schow--you're better off with Amazon or second-hand shops. I nabbed the only copy of a Campbell anthology I could find at the Eaton Centre's Indigo Books--just to make sure I had something for him to sign--and the clerk told me the store had ordered a "whole bunch" of horror titles for the event but none of them arrived from England in time. Well, at least fans know that, soon, this particular location will have a surplus of the stuff.

**(Note to non-Torontonians. The World's Biggest Bookstore, a former bowling alley, has declared itself to be such since it opened in 1980. I have no idea if it is, in fact, the largest brick-and-mortar bookstore in the world, but it contains 27 km of bookshelves under blinding flourescents, presumably measured end-to-end. There's reportedly a Barnes & Noble location in the U.S. that has more floor space, but TWBB boasts more titles. And not many of them "horror", apparently...for that, you'd best move to the UK...).