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.
Saturday, August 23, 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. The book was Sax Rohmer’s eleventh Fu Manchu thriller and was also the last of the perennial series to make the bestseller lists. The story had its origins in a stage play Rohmer had developed for several years that failed to get off the ground. It became instead the first new Fu Manchu novel in seven years, during which time the property had begun to fade from the public eye. It had been eight years since the character last appeared on the big screen and since the radio series had reached its conclusion. Detective Comics had long since finished reprinting the newspaper strip as a back-up feature for Batman. As far as the public was concerned Fu Manchu was a part of the past that seemed far removed from a world transformed by the Second World War. The initial three novels in the series were written before and during the First World War, but were set in a pre-war Britain where the paranoid delusions of the Yellow Peril personified offered a much needed dose of escapism from the realities of war in Europe. The Yellow Peril itself was a stereotype based on a turn-of-the-century conflict that became an early example of the “foreign-other” bogeymen who would increasingly feed the fears of the West in this new century. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE,PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Even more than the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu, Bulldog Drummond has become more and more obscure with each passing decade. The original ten novels and five short stories penned by H. C. McNeile (better known by his pen name, Sapper) were bestsellers in the 1920s and 1930s and were an obvious and admitted influence upon the creation of James Bond. Gerard Fairlie turned Sapper’s final story outline into a bestselling novel in 1938 and went on to pen six more original novels featuring the character through 1954. While the Fairlie titles sold well enough in the UK, the American market for the character had begun to dry up with the proliferation of hardboiled detective fiction. By the time, Fairlie decided to throw in the towel, the long-running movie series and radio series had also reached the finish line. Apart from an unsuccessful television pilot, the character remained dormant for a decade until he was updated as one of many 007 imitations who swung through a pair of campy spy movies during the Swinging Sixties. Henry Reymond adapted both screenplays for a pair of paperback originals, but these efforts barely registered outside the UK. Fifteen years later, Jack Smithers brought Drummond out of retirement (literally) to join up with several of his clubland contemporaries in Combined Forces (1983). Smithers’ tribute was a sincere effort that found a very limited market to appreciate its cult celebration of the heroes of several generations past. Finally thirty years later, Drummond is back in the first of three new period-piece thrillers from the unlikely pen of fantasy writer Stephen Deas. In a uniquely twenty-first century wrinkle, the three new thrillers are being published exclusively as e-books by Piqwiq. TO CONTINUE READING THIS REVIEW,PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.