Monday, September 19, 2011

PULPTACULAR | Airship 27



I was at C2E2 a couple of years ago and got to attend a very cool panel about the resurgence of pulps. A large part of the discussion that day was about the endurability of pulp. Does pulp need to be carefully curated by its current fans and purposefully passed on to younger audiences in order to continue? The panelists had differing opinions. Some thought that pulp was strong enough on its own that it didn’t need any special help. Others thought that some attention was needed to make sure a love for pulp is handed on to future readers.

Regardless of where you come down on that discussion (and I’d love to hear about it in the comments), I can’t imagine the argument that would suggest that it’s a good idea to not pass on pulp to future readers. Airship 27 is a publisher that’s adopted this endurance of pulp as part of its central mission. A quick look at their website reveals the slogan: “Pulp fiction for a new generation.”

As Pulptacular surveys the various publishers contributing to the New Pulp movement, one of the things I want to look at most closely is what niche each fills within the larger New Pulp landscape. I’ll make some observations of my own after perusing their websites (overall impressions of their publishing lines, particular titles that look especially interesting, etc.), but while I think that that outsider perspective will be valuable, I also want to get the insider’s look where possible. For that reason, I asked Airship 27’s founder Ron Fortier about his company and what role it plays in the world of New Pulp.

Michael: What led you to start your business? What was missing that you wanted to provide?

Ron: Seven years ago the only pulp books being printed were reprints of the old pulps. No one was doing professional, new pulp stories. Realizing pulp fans loved those old, classic pulp characters, it was only logical they would love the opportunity to read new adventures of them. That was the idea that launched Airship 27 Productions.

Michael: I notice Rob Davis’ name on the website a lot in addition to yours. What's his role in Airship 27?

Ron: Rob is a professional illustrator who entered the world of comics about the same time I did as a writer. Somehow, through mutual admiration for each other’s work, we hooked up and became friends. We lost touch over the years and then about six years ago reconnected on the internet. When Rob learned I'd written a graphic novel, Daughter of Dracula, he graciously consented to draw it for me. After all these years we finally were working together. Along about the time this was in progress, I began telling him about my plans to launch a publication project devoted to new pulp anthologies and novels. Rob was intrigued and initially came on board to do spot illustrations for some of our early books like The Hounds of Hell and my Brother Bones collection.

It was clear he was having a blast working on these books and when the fellow who had originally been designing our titles had to bow out, Rob immediately volunteered to take over that position. At which point I appointed him the Art Director of Airship 27 Productions. Since that time he's put his artistic imprint on every single title we've produced.

Our working relationship is a truly great one. I put projects together, recruit writers and artists (and Rob still takes on certain books in that role) and when all are assembled, I hand them over to Rob who creates the final package and gets it off to Cornerstone Book Publishers for printing. He also posts our books on our digital on-line store and now is uploading them to our POD operation with Ka-Blam. I keep him very, very busy.

Michael: Tell me about Cornerstone Book Publishers. How do they contribute to Airship 27's business?

Ron: Initially, Rob and I were simply going to go to a print-on-demand site and do our books that way. Then one of our writers got us in touch with Michael Poll of Cornerstone Book Publishers and when Michael saw the quality of the books we were putting together, he immediately agreed to become our traditional publisher. So every single book we produce is published and printed at Cornerstone, where they are then distributed around the world through Ingram, the outfit that Cornerstone uses to distribute all their tiles.

Besides our stuff, Cornerstone is a leading publisher of Mason titles, focusing on the traditions and history of Freemasonry, and they also do children books. Over the past few years Michael has expanded their fields of interest and Cornerstone continues to be a viable, forward-moving company. We are thrilled to be partnered with them and most likely there would have been no Airship 27 if it had not been for them.

Let me be clear, though: Cornerstone does one edition of our books. The second is a print-on-demand edition that Rob has printed at Ka-Blam and sold online exclusively at their site. This offers our regular readers an opportunity to get the same book for a slighter cheaper price than what they retail for at Amazon or other such places. And finally, we do have the on-line shop where folks can pick up a PDF file of our books for only $3. These files can then be downloaded to Nooks or other electronic reading devices. So our readers can get our books in three different versions for various prices. And hopefully sometime next year we are going to begin offering audio recordings of our titles. As you can see the future of New Pulp and Airship 27 is only limited by our own imaginations.

Michael: Speaking of the larger New Pulp world, what differentiates Airship 27 from other New Pulp publishers?

Ron: Our chief focus is on telling new stories of classic pulp heroes, mostly the second tier and really obscure characters. Other outfits with more bucks license the well-known heroes like the Shadow or Doc Savage, while still other outfits would rather produce brand new characters. Not that we don't occasionally venture into that field, but primarily we're known for our anthologies starring the classic heroes.

Michael: Where’d the name Airship 27 come from?

Ron: I'm a sucker for airships; zeppelins, dirigibles etc. that graced the skies during the 1930s. It was a symbol I always wanted as a label and 27 has been a very lucky number to me in my life, including its being the birthday of our youngest daughter. So Airship 27 was just a natural choice. And happily folks have come to identify that symbol on our books, tee-shirts, baseball caps etc. as meaning quality in the new pulp field.

Michael: Which one Airship 27 title do you recommend for someone who’s never read one of your books? Where’s the perfect place to start to get an accurate feel for what Airship 27 represents?

Ron: I've done this quite often at comic shows where the fans have no idea what pulp is all about. I hand them a copy of Hounds of Hell, which has not one, but two classic pulp characters squaring off against each other: the Moon Man from 10 Detective Aces and Doctor Satan from Weird Tales. I explain to folks that these were typical of the colorful heroes and villains that populated the pulp mags of the 1930s and here they are in a first time cross-over in a brand new story. Like twice the bang for your bucks. As for those folks who know their pulps and want to sample our wares, I recommend any of our Secret Agent X titles. This was a really second-tier hero from the ‘30s and our writers have a blast writing his adventures.

Michael: Let’s say someone has enjoyed every Airship 27 title available and is still craving more like it. What classic pulp would you suggest that person read that would be comparable to yours?

Ron: Again, I point people to Secret Agent X, Jim Anthony Super Detective, and the Moon Man to get a feel for the fun and daring that existed in those classic pulps. And I always recommend they check out Altus Press who publishes the best quality reprint series. It's always our hope that our readers will try and find these beautifully packaged reprints and get a taste of those wonderful adventure stories.

***

With Ron’s perspective in mind, I went back to the Airship 27 site to look over some of the books he mentioned and see which other ones also caught my eye. Hounds of Hell does sound like a lot of fun from the names of the characters alone. I’m familiar with Doctor Satan thanks to Ron and Rob’s webcomic (one of the earliest webcomics I ever read), but had never heard of the Moon Man until Ron mentioned him. That’s an awesome name and I’m curious to read more about him.

Brother Bones also looks cool, about a skull-masked avenger who prowls the streets of Cape Noire (another great name!) hunting werewolves and other supernatural creatures. I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan, so both the Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detecitve anthology series and Season of Madness: A Doctor Watson Adventure (teaming Holmes' sidekick with Dr. Seward from Dracula) are intriguing.

The covers to the Captain Hazzard books all call out to my thirst for awesomeness. Python Men of the Lost City has a guy sure enough dressed as a python and wielding a sword in front of a lost city, Curse of the Red Maggot has a couple of deep sea divers in a knife fight as a great white shark attacks, and Cavemen of New York shows Hazzard fighting a huge Neanderthal in Manhattan.

There are also new Masked Rider and Robin Hood adventures and Jim Anthony, Super Detective: The Hunters has the title character holding a knife while being held by a giant ape in the jungle. The blurb for that one mentions dinosaurs and a “lost island,” so I expect my itch for more Skull Island stories to be well scratched by this one.

There’s more of course and I’d encourage you to go take a look and maybe come back here and let me know which are your favorites. Or, if you’re already familiar with Airship 27’s books, leave some recommendations below. As I continue surveying the New Pulp publishers, I’ll also be compiling a reading list and the more suggestions to go on it, the better. I'm no spring chicken, but by my sheer ignorance I'm definitely part of the "new generation" that Airship 27's trying to reach.

Many thanks to Ron for indulging my many questions! Next on Pulptacular: Pro Se Productions.

5 comments:

  1. Great interview. Airship 27 produces some spectacular new pulp. I've got a few of them in my read pile right now!

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  2. Wow, this was such a great write-up Michael. Thank you so much. Will be spreading the word about this article and interview. Thanks again so much.

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  3. Great introduction to folks who haven't flown aboard the ol' Airship! For the record, Michael, it took me only 4 of the original Moon Man tales before the character knocked Doc Savage of the throne as my all-time favorite pulp character. No small feat! Good luck finding the original tales though -- where's Altus when you need them? As for Airship titles, I'd recommend the ones you mentioned but also the Black Bat and Dan Fowler. If you're curious about what Airship has for today's readers then have a look at Damballa and The Light Of Men. Great write up!

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  4. Wow! Very nice commentary. Thanks for this great coverage of what we do at Airship 27. Working with Ron on the New Pulp books we do scratches a lot of creative itches I have, so it's pretty easy for Ron to keep me so busy. What Ron didn't mention is that fans of pulp can attend a number of conventions each year that cover the genre: Windy City Pulp and Paper Show and PulpFest in Chicago. Illinois and Columbus, Ohio respectively are ones where Ron and I can usually be found and don't let me forget to mention PulpFest in Arkansas. Fans should join us for good, pulpy fun.

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