Wednesday, October 8, 2014
The centennial of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu character is a topic I have covered both for the anniversary of the Devil Doctor’s first appearance in the story, “The Zayat Kiss” in 1912 and the publication of the first novel (really a fix-up of stories), The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu in 1913. While Rohmer and the character are largely forgotten outside of pulp circles today, the legacy of the criminal mastermind is alive and well in film and comics. The concept of the Yellow Peril from an era when the broad term Oriental grouped together people from parts of Eastern Europe with all of Asia and the Middle East may sound anachronistic, but given the continued delicate relations between the Middle East and the West, those same fears personified are still the stuff of fiction and paranoia well over a century on. Sax Rohmer did not invent the criminal mastermind nor was he the first to capitalize on the Yellow Peril for works of fiction. What he did do was create an archetype that managed to embody and transcend the fears of a foreign other to instead personify the fear of Western society falling to a superior intellect operating under a completely different set of values. Rohmer did this better than anyone before and while Fu Manchu as a name may seem ridiculous, the concept of the character is still with us from James Bond films to the media’s portrayal of terrorist leaders in the 21st Century. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.
Friday, October 3, 2014
Samhain Publishing has just ushered in Closing Time, their third Renner and Quist occult mystery from author Mark Rigney. Longtime readers of my articles will recall The Skates and Sleeping Bear, which introduced me to Rigney’s oddball double act. Renner is a persnickety Unitarian minister while Quist is a boorish ex-linebacker. Together, this unlikely duo team to solve occult mysteries. This latest addition to the quirky and delightful series takes our heroes from their usual Michigan stomping grounds to downtown Columbus, Ohio. It seems a long-demolished hotel is doing its best to return to existence. It currently inhabits its original location in another dimension complete with guests and staff from past decades co-existing. These include such celebrated faces from the past as Amelia Earhart, James Thurber, Charles Dickens, and Marilyn Monroe. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
I was first introduced to Mike Vosburg’s work through my love of Sax Rohmer. His wonderful artwork graced Master of Villainy, the 1972 biography of Rohmer by the author’s widow and Cay Van Ash. Later, I would discover Mike’s artwork also appeared in The Rohmer Review fanzine. Many more years later, I was fortunate enough to have Mike provide the back cover illustration to my second Fu Manchu book. He also gave my daughter a gift of autographed copies of some of his professional work which made her feel like the luckiest nine year old girl on the planet. I don’t claim to know the man well, but I adore his work and know him as a genuinely kind and generous artist. The influence of Sax Rohmer is never far away from Mike’s art. From his early professional work for Marvel Comics with The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (featuring Shang-Chi, the son of Fu Manchu) to Offcastes, his 1993 Epic Comics limited series set on a future Earth that parallels the colonialism of the past right down to classic Yellow Peril elements including the Zayat Kiss; Rohmer’s shadow looms large. Today, Mike is best known as an award-winning storyboard artist for the Hollywood majors. He still has his hands in the indie comic world, though with such titles as Retrowood, Lori Lovecraft, and his latest creation, The Mad Mummy. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Sapper’s The Female of the Species (1928) is quite likely the best book in the long-running Bulldog Drummond thriller series. It’s one failing comes late in the narrative and spoils it as assuredly as Mickey Rooney’s bucktoothed yellow-face performance as Mr. Yunioshi sours Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) for modern audiences. As a devoted fan of both Blake Edwards and Sapper, I do my best to make exceptions for their failings, particularly when they were acceptable in the times they lived in. In the case of the former, the suggestion of pornographic photos in Truman Capote’s novella could never have been transferred to the screen with an Asian actor in the role of Audrey Hepburn’s frustrated landlord. Edwards soft-pedaled the material and defused a scene that never would have slipped by the Production Code if handled dramatically by offering Mickey Rooney in a broad caricature of an Asian. It was a star cameo in a comic stereotype still common in television sitcoms of the 1960s and Jerry Lewis films. Audiences at the time laughed at the fact that it was Mickey Rooney making a fool of himself and nothing more. Today, the classic status of the film makes the sequence stick out as an unfortunate example of racial insensitivity in a fashion that does not taint comedies of the same era which are now considered a time capsule example of what passed for juvenile humor at the time. So we come to The Female of the Species where Sapper’s engrossing thriller falls apart at the climax for modern readers by the repeated belittling of Pedro, an African henchman as a “nigger.” Worst of all, Sapper attempts black-face humor and notes the disguised Drummond doesn’t smell like a “nigger.” This isn’t a colonial jungle tale where the word was often employed without contempt; this is a Roaring Twenties thriller where it is used as a contemptuous slur. While allegations of Sapper’s racism are often exaggerated by modern commentators, when he does pile it on he stands out among his contemporaries as genuinely intolerant of everyone and everything not British. Never is this more true than in this book where the sheer repetition of the slur from multiple protagonists who hold the man in contempt for the color of his skin alone leads one to feel repulsed. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE,PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
We already noted in our last installment that Arthur Henry Ward had adopted the pseudonym of Sax Rohmer for his relatively successful career as a music hall songwriter and comedy sketch writer. He would later claim that he worked as a newspaper reporter during these years, but that his articles were published anonymously. Allegedly he covered waterfront crime in Limehouse, but he also claimed to have successfully managed interviews with heads of state. There is little doubt the man was a great raconteur, but none of the anonymously published articles and interviews Rohmer credits himself with writing have ever been located by researchers. It is highly questionable whether he ever actually worked as a journalist or at least to the extent he claimed. What is factual is that he did begin having works published anonymously. As a young man, he ran with a crowd of self-styled bohemians who occupied a clubhouse on Oakmead Road in London. Each member of the gang was known by rather fanciful nicknames with Rohmer being known as Digger. Their activities ran from simply hanging around the clubhouse to picking up girls and attempting various get-rich-quick schemes to avoid making an honest living. Some of their schemes were of questionable legality. Around this time, Rohmer decided he would fictionalize their exploits. It is believed he authored seven stories about the Oakmead Road Gang. Five manuscripts were known to have survived their author’s death: “Narky,” “Rupert,” “Digger’s Aunt,” “The Pot Hunters,” and “The Treasure Chest.” All seven stories were submitted for anonymous publication to Yes and No. It appears only the first of the group of stories ever saw print. The surviving four manuscripts passed upon the death of Rohmer’s widow to Cay Van Ash. When Van Ash died in Paris twenty years ago, Rohmer's unpublished manuscripts were being held by a friend in Tokyo (where Van Ash lived for many years while teaching at Waseda University). When the friend had his visa rescinded on short notice in 2000, he was forced to leave Rohmer's manuscripts behind where they were junked by a Japanese family who thought the storage boxes contained worthless garbage. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
“The M’Villin” was first published in Pearson’s Magazine in December 1906. Rohmer was still writing under the slightly modified version of his real name, A. Sarsfield Ward. The story represented a quantum leap forward in the quality of Rohmer’s fiction and shows the influence of Alexandre Dumas’ swashbucklers. Dumas remained a surprising influence on the author who still turned out the odd swashbuckler as late as the 1950s. It should also be noted that the character of Lola Dumas in President Fu Manchu (1936) is said to be a descendant of the famous author while The Crime Magnet stories Rohmer penned in the 1930s and 1940s feature Major de Treville, a character whose surname suggests he is a descendant of the commander of the Musketeers from Dumas’ D’artagnan Romances. Colonel Fergus M’Villin may be oddly named, but he makes for a fascinating character. An expert swordsman and fencing master, he is also a bit of a cad. The story of how he comes to avenge the honor of the man he previously slew in an earlier duel maintains the breezy good humor and spirit of adventure that colors The Three Musketeers in its earlier chapters. Rohmer thought well enough of the character to have penned a sequel, “The Ebony Casket,” but it was never published. The manuscript survived up until the year 2000 when it was junked in Tokyo by a family who did not imagine its worth to collectors. Rohmer remained proud of the story and included it in his 1932 collection of short fiction, Tales of East and West. He slightly altered the spelling of the character’s name and story’s title to “The McVillin.” It only appears in the rare UK edition published by Cassell and not the US edition or its reprint by Bookfinger. The story was not reprinted until Gene Christie collected it for the first volume of Black Dog Books’ Sax Rohmer Library, The Green Spider and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense in 2011. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.
Friday, August 29, 2014
The Shadow of Fu Manchu was serialized in Collier’s from May 8 to June 12, 1948. Hardcover editions followed later that year from Doubleday in the U.S. and Herbert Jenkins in the U.K. Sax Rohmer’s eleventh Fu Manchu thriller gets underway with Sir Denis Nayland Smith in New York on special assignment with the FBI. He is partnered with FBI Agent Raymond Harkness to investigate why agents from various nations are converging on Manhattan. Sir Denis suspects the object of international attention is the special project being handled by The Huston Research Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Morris Craig. However, Smith initially chooses to keep the FBI in the dark on this matter until he is certain. The Si-Fan has succeeded in closing in on The Huston Research Laboratory by drawing a net around the parent corporation Huston Electric’s director, millionaire Michael Frobisher and his wife, Stella. The Frobisher marriage is not a happy one. Michael lives in fear that his flirtatious wife is unfaithful to him and Stella is likewise tormented by a series of neuroses. The family physician, Dr. Pardoe recommends an eminent European psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor, Professor Hoffmeyer to treat Stella Frobisher. Both Mr. and Mrs. Frobisher are concerned that Asians have been spying on them, going so far as to break into their home and infiltrate their country club. As their marriage is not a healthy one, neither husband nor wife confide in the other, but rather let their paranoia grow until their nerves have frayed. What neither suspects is that Carl Hoffmeyer is really Dr. Fu Manchu in disguise. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.