Hello Ghouls and Boils,
Minion Sean Levin had a great experience at FarmerCon and Pulp Fest 2011. Henry and I were hoping to attend, sadly money is tight (looking at the dust bunnies in my wallet) – so he was She Never Slept’s eyes and ears in our stead. Now I will leave things to Sean. Enjoy, my fiends!
Sarah L. Covert
For the past nine years, Philip José Farmer has been my favorite author. I discovered his work while reading about the Wold Newton Family, his interconnected family tree of literary and adventure heroes and villains such as Tarzan, Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes, The Shadow, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Fu Manchu, and many others. This, in turn, led to an interest in pulp magazines and the characters featured in them. Through online Wold Newton fandom, I’ve made such many good friends like Win Scott Eckert, Rick Lai, Dennis E. Power, fellow minion Henry Zeo Covert — to name but a few.
Since 2006, many of these gentlemen and other Farmer fans have been holding FarmerCon, a celebration of the life and achievements of this groundbreaking and critically acclaimed author. Tragically, Phil passed away on February 25, 2009, and his wife Bette passed on June 10 of the same year, just 2 days after the end of FarmerCon IV. While their loss has been a terrible one for the many fans who received their hospitality over the years, Phil’s fans have continued holding the convention.
This year’s FarmerCon took place in Columbus, OH, from July 28-31 at Pulpfest. This yearly convention for pulp fans, hosted the event. The convention also honored the 80th anniversary of The Shadow Magazine.
When I found out the exact dates and location of the convention, I jumped at the chance to meet many of the people who I had been conversing with on the internet for years.
My father, Steve, and I arrived at the Ramada around 6:30 p.m on July 29 and after taking a breath dove right in. At 7:10, we attended The Shadow on Radio, a panel hosted by Martin Grams, author of The Shadow: The History and Mystery of the Radio Program, 1930-1954. This was an audio-visual history of the character’s original appearances as a narrator of suspenseful radio program, his leap to the pulps, and eventually being given his own program, which underwent a number of different incarnations.
Being much more familiar with the Shadow from the pulp novels by Walter Gibson, I found this a fascinating look at one of the best known Old Time Radio Programs. My only regret is that I never got a chance to buy Mr. Grams’ book.
After the first panel, we went into the lounge across the hall to get refreshments, and I introduced myself to Win Scott Eckert, who filled me in on many of our mutual friends who were there, including: Rick Lai, John A. Small, Greg Gick, Art Sippo, and Michael Croteau, creator and owner of The Official Philip José Farmer Home Page.
After retiring to our room for a while, Dad and I returned at 9:40 P.M. for Stephen Haffner‘s panel on Catherine L. Moore, one of the earliest female writers in the fields of science fiction and fantasy. This panel covered not only her published work, both on her own and with her husband Henry Kuttner, but also her personal life, including her ventures into television writing. Though I knew Moore’s work better by reputation than by actually reading it, I enjoyed learning so much about one of the pioneers of what was most mostly regarded as the time as a boys’ genre.
Win Scott Eckert explained Phil’s creation of the Wold Newton Family and its legacy, including how he and others have expanded the WNF into an extended Wold Newton Universe encompassing many more characters, not all of whom are necessarily part of the Family itself.
Rick Lai addressed Phil’s take on The Shadow and brought up several points of contention with his theories, while reconciling them with his own views on the character and, among other things, his relationship with his agent Margo Lane.
Art Sippo delivered an incredibly eloquent analysis of A Feast Unknown, one of Farmer’s most controversial novels, in which Lord Grandrith (a pastiche of Tarzan) and Doc Caliban (a stand-in for Doc Savage), a book noted for its provocative material. Art argued that the protagonists (Grandrith in particular) were very much in the Farmerian mold and that many of the more contentious passages have parallels in real life practices.
After the panel, I shook hands and gave my compliments to these gentlemen – some of whom I had been fans of since I first discovered the Wold Newton Universe.
At 9:30 the following morning, I headed to the Dealers’ Room, where much book buying ensued. Among others, I visited the Meteor House booth, publishers of among others The Worlds of Philip José Farmer, annual collections of stories and essays by Farmer or inspired by his work.
There I purchased the Bison Books edition of Farmer’s seminal biography of Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke, the book that introduced the Wold Newton family. Win, who provided the foreword for this edition, flatteringly autographed it “To Sean Levin – the world’s biggest Wold Newton fan and a great friend!” He also autographed Titan Books’ recent edition of Farmer’s hilarious Holmes/Tarzan crossover The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Peerless Peer, which he had provided the afterword for. (Interestingly, the back cover refers to the book as “A Wold Newton Novel”. Hopefully, this means Titan will be publishing more works with a Wold Newton theme).
I also purchased a copy of Art Sippo’s book Sun Koh: Heir of Atlantis, Vol. 1, which features a retelling of the origin of the German pulp hero sometimes compared to Doc Savage, as well as two more stories featuring the controversial character.
I bought the first three issues of the defunct fanzine Farmerphile, and, from Phil Farmer’s own estate, an autographed omnibus edition of Lord of the Trees and the Mad Goblin, the second and third book in the trilogy that started with A Feast Unknown.
Finally, though I bought quite a few other books, I got Will Murray‘s new Doc Savage novel The Desert Demons (the first official addition to the series in 20 years), and he was kind enough to sign it, both under his own name and the Street & Smith house name of Kenneth Robeson. Then it was back to the panels!
At 1:00, I attended The New Pulp Fiction, which was moderated by Ron Fortier of Airship 27 Productions, and included such modern authors in the pulp tradition as Win Scott Eckert, Art Sippo, Greg Gick (another member of the Wold Newton community), Wayne Reinagel, Duane Spurlock, and Bill Craig. Being a would-be author myself, I particularly found their discourse on what makes a pulp story to be insightful and very well-informed, coming as it does from gentlemen who have read and worked widely in the genre.
At 5:15, I joined Win, his wife Lisa, Art, Greg, Rick, John, Jason Aiken and Frank Schildiner, for dinner. Dad and I shared a table with Win, Lisa, Art, Rick, and Frank, where we ate pizza and discussed everything from story ideas to the new Conan movie to our day jobs outside of pulp writing. There was a very warm atmosphere and I was honored to be treated as just another one of the guys.
At 7:00, guests were invited to give feedback on how the convention so far (I lamented how difficult it was to get to the 6th floor from our room on the 4th for many of the panels). The hosts of Pulpfest were very open to suggestions and seemed genuinely interested in improving our experience.
20 minutes later, the Munsey Award was given to Anthony Tollin for his service to the pulp community. Specifically, his company The Shadow’s Sanctum has reprinted the original pulp exploits of such classic pulp heroes as The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, and The Whisperer.
7:30 brought Professor Garyn Roberts‘ lecture Steampunk in the Days of Dime Novels and the Pulp Magazines. This examined the genesis of the subgenre from such youthful inventor heroes as Frank Reade and Electric Bob to latter-day authors such as James Blaylock.
At 8:20, Mr. Tollin, Mr. Murray, and Randy Cox took part in a panel moderated by Ed Hulse – Walter B. Gibson and The Shadow. These three gentlemen all knew and wrote about Gibson, the primary writer of the Shadow’s exploits, and shared their accounts of meeting him and how he felt about working on arguably the most famous of all pulp heroes.
An auction followed, but I, Win, Rick, Art, Greg, John, Frank, Jason, and Mark Philip Steele (who had arrived late) decided to go to the lounge, talk, and finish off the pizza instead. I got Rick and Art to sign the books I’d purchased that morning, and our conversation again was far-reaching, covering everything from advice for a certain young would-be author from Chicago to continuity discrepancies in the Universal Monsters films.This was a true pleasure, as I love being able to discuss my interests with people who really understand such things themselves.
Sadly, our bus was due to leave the following morning, but I did get the chance to say goodbye to Win (and have my picture taken with him), Greg, and Art. I am already considering attending next year’s Farmer Con, especially considering that there is a slight chance it may be held in Chicago! It was wonderful to meet so many people whose work I’ve admired and whose friendship I’ve valued so much over the years, and I hope to see them again as soon as possible. This was without a doubt the best convention I’ve ever been to!
Sean Levin – Minion (Reviewer/Reporter)