On this page we will bring you word of new developments in the realm of the work of Karl Edward Wagner, and in the study of the man himself. Here you'll learn of new editions of his previously published writings, new printings of his correspondence, essays and - dare we hope -newly discovered unpublished fiction, and adaptations of his stories into other media such as graphic novels and movies.
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New Wagner Collections are Flawless Gems, Almost
Karl Wagner's stories are in print in many countries and many languages, but damnably hard to find in his own United States. Therefore, horror fans are delighted to have a new edition of his horror stories in two volumes from Centipede Press. These are plainly labors of love, edited by his "friend and colleague," as the flyleaf expresses it, Stephen Jones. Two substantive volumes with smallish type were required to accomodate all Karl's horror stories, but the type is just big enough and the books just small enough to allow for reading in bed, reading oneself into an uneasy sleep on dark winter nights. I'm not usually a fan of photos as illustration (perhaps, in part, because I was once an illustrator), but photogarapher J.K. Potter (also author of the Harry Rowling series, I believe), has made a believer of me. I laughed aloud in the bookstore when I saw the back cover of the first in the series, Where the Summer Ends. The second volume is titled A Walk on the Wild Side.
These are brilliant gems, indeed. Impurities in gems are referred to as inclusions, and the second of the two books has one rather unfortunate inclusion, an article by David Drake titled "The Truth as Far as I Know" or something like that. I am baffled as to why a man who considers himself Karl's friend would have included this article in a set of books paying tribute to the man. I'm sure he had his reasons. I will only say that Karl told me a bit, in an off-handed, no-big-deal kind of manner,about some of the topics that Drake reveals to us as a grotesque assemblage rather like the thing floating in Bradbury's "The Jar."
Another slight flaw in the first gem is a sprinkling of misapprehensions regarding Karl and his work. First is the statement that Karl, while in medical school, had been inspired by the Robert E Howard's character Conan to create his own variant, Kane. In fact, Karl was already developing the character of Kane in his first years of high school, maybe even sooner. At that time Conan was unknown to our generation, and would not reappear in the states until 1967 in the first Lancer paperback. By that time Kane was well-fleshed out in Karl's mind. He'd shown me early versions of both Bloodstone and "The Treasure of Lynortis" (eventually printed as "Lynortis Reprise") around 1960. His principle influences, other than the Bible itself, were Victorian gothic novles, notably Melmoth the Wanderer and The Worm Ouroboros with a sprinkling of the pulp stories of C.L. Moore, Fritz Leiber, and others, and the early work of Michael Moorcock. He was also much influenced by James Branch Cabell, and his stories in high school echoed Cabell's sardonic style. Had Karl not encountered other influences later on (and, yes, Conan was eventually factored in, no doubt), I think his work would have most resembled that of Jack Vance.
Jones also tells us that Karl "eventually dropped out of medical school." Well, no. Karl was, in fact, suspended from medical school, despite having excellent grades, due to what was seen as insubordination. Karl's ex-wife Barbara Mott once told me Karl had had the highest IQ of anyone entering UNC medical school up until his admission. His grades were excellent. But, even though Karl liked to present himself as hard-bitten and unsentimental, he had a deep core of compassion and a strong sense of justice. He had been known to refuse doctors' instructions if their only purpose was to provide students with human guinea pigs, as described in my short reminiscence, "The Dark Muse of Karl Edward Wagner." On one occasion Karl felt he'd been insulted by one of his instructors and blocked the doorway after class until the man apologized. But he was highly intelligent and a diligent student; his grades were excellent. Certain of his instructors resented him, but what could they do. Well, as it happens, plenty. UNC med school had recently moved to a pass/fail system. It had been felt that instructors should have the flexibility to advance students with good instincts and an affinity for patients even if their grades might fall a bit short. But it occurred to some among UNC's medical instructors that that could be used as a two-edge sword. Even though Karl maintained a high GPA he was suspended for one symester for having a bad attitude. Needless to say he was furious, and he had planned on filing suit. But while he was on hiatus he knuckled down on his writing and sold his first novel, Darkness Weaves with Many Shades. A bit more upbeat abou things he let his lawsuit go and reenrolled at UNC. And did receive his MD license. And did practice for about a year, in a men's ward, becoming increasingly disillusioned with the psychiatric profession in general and with electroconvulsive therapy in particular, a practice he said was without any real theoretical underpinnings and of dubious value. He refused to prescribe them, much to the annoyance of his supervisors. After about a year in a NC mental hospital he learned he was to be transferred to a women's ward; shock treatments are much more often prescribed for women than for men. So he quit the job, and the profession. Still and all, these are handsome volumes, welcome additions to scant Wagner volumes these days, and much appreciated. [To be continued]
Kane vs. Kane Just
as Karl’s only series character Kane
is slouching tocanner, an unexpected source of danger
has appeared from one long thought an ally. Treachery within the pages
of an adventure yarn is one thing; among real flesh and blood publishers
it cannot be excused.
But now the paintings have been
licensed for a third use, and this one is unconscienable. Whether
there were restrictions against reusing the covers for purposes that
would be in direct competition with their original purpose I don’t
know. Karl’s estate is being managed by his siblings, and they are
not prepared to deal with being blind-sided in this way. Copyright
and trademark law is an especially nebulous area of the law and Jimmy
and Audrey lack legal expertise.
Following on the success of
the Death Dealer graphic novel based on a Frazetta painting (I don’t
know its original purpose), Image comics decided to repeat their
success, and asked Mark Kidwell to choose another. When he chose
a Kane cover to base his story upon, according to Kidwell
himself, the publishers responded with,
“You’re nuts!” Perhaps they were considering the
legal ramifications. Even the first word in the title is unchanged.
In describing his selection process, Kidwell mentions the use of these paintings as Molly Hatchet covers, but never hints at their original purpose, as representations of Kane. I doubt that is because he was unaware of the fact; he says he spent hours looking up Frazetta images on the internet. I suspect failing to mention that these were Kane covers was deliberate.
Mind, these are not some of Frazetta’s generic fantasy
covers; these were covers that portrayed Kane, in particular, based
on Karl’s description of the character. They are to be used as covers
for one or more graphic novels about a red-haired swashbucker who is
drawn to be the figure on the cover who was painted to be Kane. The
possibility for dilution of the Kane trademark and copyright is quite
~ John Mayer
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production of the first Kane movie, Reflections
on the Winter of my Soul, based on the first novella
Angel's Shadow, remains in progress. Apparently it takes
a long time to make a movie. I’m told the script has been firmed
up and locations have been chosen. And a director has taken the helm.
The blog Sorenz.DK says, “Producer Lauren Moews' Tonic Films har
fået rettighederne til Death Angel's Shadow, en samling af
3 korte historie som alle omhandler sci-fi forfatteren Karl Edward
Wagner's udødelige anti-helt Kane.” Of course, I’m on record
as objecting to the use of the term ”anti-helt” to refer to Kane,
but maybe the term has a different nuance in Danish.