Tuesday, August 29, 2017

That Which Is Not Dead... Part 3

Deathrealm #23, Spring 1995


After Stan Tal and I decided in 1994 that retiring Deathrealm was for the best, I had few hopes that it might play phoenix from the ashes a second time. But Tal did put the word out that interested publishers ought to inquire, and that's exactly what happened. Well, almost.

The Malicious Press Years
In these golden olden days, the online network GEnie—one of the precursors to what we know today as social media—had brought together writers from every field, with forums and chat rooms that quite a few of us put to substantial use. Through GEnie, I had gotten to know Lawrence Watt-Evans (author of The Lords of Dus series, the Legends of Ethshar series, a couple of Star Trek novels, and a host of other H/F/SF series and novels). Having heard of Deathrealm's apparent demise, Lawrence—or LWE (pronounced "Louie") as he was often known—expressed some interest in stepping in as a possible publisher. At the same time, screenwriter Terry Rossio (The Puppet Masters, Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin, Shrek, and many others, including the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong), who was also a Deathrealm subscriber, contacted me stating a similar interest. With both individuals interested in keeping Deathrealm from its entering final resting place, it was only natural for LWE and Terry to schedule a meeting of the minds, which eventually resulted in a conference call between the three of us. And at the end of it, the deal was done.

Somewhere in the conversation, LWE and Terry figured the partnership would need an official company name, and I jokingly tossed out "It ought to be dark but kind of warm and fuzzy. Something like 'Malicious Press.'" I had never intended that to be serious, but both of them thought it was just the ticket. So, Malicious Press was born. In this arrangement, LWE and Terry were totally silent partners, while I took over not only the editing and production work, but once again the whole sheboygan—sales & marketing, accounting, promotion, you name it.

I tell you, I knew I had my work cut out for me to make this thing succeed. But Deathrealm was once again alive. I immediately set to work putting together a new issue, keeping the best features from the Tal days, such as Karl Edward Wagner's "View From Carcosa" column, but shifting the focus once again to less noisy, more subtle horror fiction. At the time, Karl Wagner held what he believed to be the last unpublished story by the late, celebrated North Carolina author Manly Wade Wellman, a piece titled "The Finger of Halugra," which he had planned to run in an anthology that never came about. He offered it to Deathrealm, and so it became the centerpiece for issue #23. In the spring of 1995, the issue came out with something akin to great fanfare.

Now, prior to the issue's release, I had advertised that it would feature the last known unpublished story by Manly Wade Wellman. Early one morning before heading to work, I was taking my customary shower when my wife hollered to me, "Mark, Harlan Ellison is on the phone for you."

"No. No, he isn't," I said.

"Yes, he is."

Yes, he was. Imagine my surprise when he told me that he, too, had an unpublished story by Manly Wade Wellman for The Last Dangerous Visions, and he wanted to find out which story I had in my possession. When I informed him that it was "The Finger of Halugra," his relief was palpable, for that could have been a complicated situation indeed. And all was happily resolved (although, to date, The Last Dangerous Visions, featuring Manly Wade Wellman's "Not All a Dream," has yet to see daylight).

Sadly, in October 1994, Karl Edward Wagner passed away, so Deathrealm #23 featured not only his "gift" of the Wellman tale but the last of his most wonderful "View From Carcosa" columns.

During Malicious Press's ownership, Deathrealm featured fiction, poetry, interviews, and columns by Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Ramsey Campbell, Douglas Clegg, Don D'Ammassa, Stephen Jones, Elizabeth Massie, Brian McNaughton, Thomas F. Monteleone, Billie Sue Mosiman, William F. Nolan, Tom Piccirilli, Wayne Allen Sallee, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, David Niall Wilson, and many more. Artists such as Michael Apice, Harry Fassl, Lew Hartman, Keith Minnion, Phillip Reynolds, Chad Savage, and many others provided covers and gorgeous interior art. By almost any standard, Deathrealm, now more than ever, was at the top of its game.

Deathrealm #27, Spring 1996
Banned in Canada!
In the spring of 1996, issue #27 featured a cover by writer/artist Ian McDowell (also of Greensboro) that was nothing more than one of his cute baby pictures, altered to be perhaps a little less cute.

I loved it. It was creepy yet whimsical. Apparently, however, Canadian customs failed to appreciate the whimsy, for I received word from distributor Gordon & Gotch that the shipment of Deathrealm #27 had been stopped at the border and would not be allowed to enter the country. Now, truly, I love Canada and its people, but I did feel that in this case they might have erred by expecting too much non-horror on the cover of a horror magazine. As it was, some thousand copies of issue #27 ended up in a Canadian recycling bin, as the expense of having them shipped back here, with no place to put them, would have been prohibitive.
Deathrealm #28, Summer 1996

However, with issue #28, Ian and I had some measure of revenge. He also provided the cover of this issue: another Photoshopped image, but one at least in some measure less disturbing than that cute lil baby picture. This one, happily, presented no problem for Canadian customs. But most gratifyingly, after word got out about the issue being banned, distributor and subscription orders from Canada damn near tripled. Not only that, on the interior back issue page, I ran a large reproduction of #27's cover, so that Canadian readers actually could see what they had been missing a few months earlier.

The Final Days
Needless to say, managing the beast that Deathrealm had become was a full-time job, squeezed into part-time hours. Regardless, issues usually came out right on schedule, with a couple of minor delays along the line. However, we were having to work against increasingly prohibitive economic factors. Having fallen on hard times themselves, newsstand and comic distributors were cutting rather than increasing orders. More than one demanded that all distribution go through them, essentially forcing us to put all our eggs in one basket. Subscriptions fell somewhat. Printing prices increased substantially. And then, the coup de grace: Fine Print Distributors, which distributed to Barnes & Noble, our biggest retail outlet, went bankrupt, owing Malicious Press something to the tune of $12,000. This was an amount we couldn't just bounce back from, not to mention putting a huge dent in our circulation.

This time, it looked like Deathrealm was doomed. If this had happened five years into its run, I might have decided to regroup and rebuild as best as possible, but after a full decade of it, I was tired. I couldn't essentially start the magazine from the ground up all over again and even think about working on my own writing, which was doing pretty well for me at the time.
Deathrealm #31, Summer 1997
The Grand Finale

Once again, the partnership decided it was in everyone's best interest to publish all the material we had purchased and close the doors once and for all.

And that was that. The final issue of Deathrealm, #31, came out in Summer, 1997, just over a decade since the first issue had seen the light of day. It featured a gorgeous cover by renowned artist Richard Corben, with fiction by Jeffrey Osier, who had almost single-handedly put Deathrealm on the map with his story "Encyclopedia for Boys" in the first issue; Eric Brown; David Niall Wilson; Wayne Allen Sallee; Tim Emsweiler; and several others.

Ten years; 31 issues; hundreds of writers and artists, many of whom had work from Deathrealm go on to appear in numerous Year's Best anthologies; awards and accolades. An endeavor that, now 20 years later, I could hardly be more proud of.

I think there will be one more entry following this one—the aftermath, perhaps some supplemental info, and final thoughts. Bear with me one more time.

For now, good night.


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