Monday, October 3, 2011

PULPTACULAR | Age of Aces


Starting this week we’re digging into the New Pulp publishers I’m not that familiar with. Well, one of them I am (Moonstone), but for the most part I’m discovering these companies for the first time. Since that’s the case, I’m changing tactics a little. Instead of talking to the publishers first and then going to their websites, I’m switching that around. After all, I’ve got to visit their websites to get contact information; I might as well jot down a few impressions while I’m at it.


The first thing I noticed about the Age of Aces site: it’s very clear what their focus is. It’s right there in the name and the banner at the top of the page: WWI flying ace adventure. That’s a genre I haven’t done much reading in, though I’ve always loved the covers of books like G-8 and His Battle Aces with their bizarre depictions of WWI bi-planes fighting skeletons, dragons, and fire-breathing bats.

The next thing I noticed about the site is how gorgeous the covers all are. Reading a little further, I learned that that’s on purpose. The first line in their About Us page defines the company very well: “Age of Aces Books is a publisher of lost pulp fiction treasures with a keen eye for design.” It goes on to explain that two-thirds of the Age of Aces team is dedicated to Art Direction and Design, with only one member of the team serving as Editor. That focus on making the books look great pays off in an impressive-looking line. The covers are diverse and visually compelling, but share enough design elements to create a strong brand. Even if it didn’t have the logo, you could tell an Age of Aces book just by looking at it.

The covers that popped out at me first were the first volume of Red Falcon and The Spider vs. The Empire State. With Red Falcon, I just love that upside-down, red plane and logo against the dark blue background. My attraction to The Spider is partly due to Moonstone’s excellent first issue in their Spider comic series, which got me intrigued about the character. But it’s also thanks to the strength of Empire State’s cover with the lone Spider facing off against hordes of soldiers and a monolithic title. I’m already wondering how he’s going to overcome those odds and I haven’t even opened the cover.

I looked forward to talking to Editor Bill Mann to find out more about the company and what other books he recommends.

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

Bill: In the early stages of Age of Aces, we really weren’t looking to start a publishing company. It was one of those “preparation meets opportunity” moments.

I’d met Chris and David Kalb at Pulpcon in the mid-nineties. We became good friends and shared a love of the air pulps. Between us we had a pretty good-sized collection of Dare-Devil Aces and the other Popular Publications titles and one of our favorite characters from those magazines was Steve Fisher’s Captain Babyface. We talked about how no one was re-printing those kinds of stories and how we could do it cheaply through print-on-demand. We decided to go for it. All that was left was getting permission from the copyright holder and we were off and running. Once we published Captain Babyface we just kept on going. There’s a lot more we still want to do, so we’ll be around for a while.

Michael: What differentiates Age of Aces from other New Pulp publishers?

Bill: Strictly speaking, we aren’t “new pulp” since we re-print the classic stuff. But we are new in the fact that we do it in a way that no one else had done before. Chris and David Kalb are extremely talented artists. Their work in designing both the covers and interiors of our books is both retro and modern at the same time. And I believe they’ve been an influence on the whole pulp re-print community. You’re seeing a lot more work going into the packaging of the re-prints these days and I think Chris and David can claim some credit for that.

Michael: In these profile pieces, I usually ask publishers where the names of their companies originated. I can guess where Age of Aces came from, but is there a story behind it other than the obvious reference to the period of time in which flying aces operated?

Bill: I wish I had an origin story to tell you, but it really was just a simple, catchy description for what we wanted to do. And it fired up Chris’ imagination to come up with our cool logo.

Michael: Which of your titles 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 Age of Aces represents?

Bill: That’s a tough one to answer.

I guess that in order to introduce someone to the “weird war” genre that most of our titles belong to, I would tell them to read Captain Philip Strange: Strange War. As one person told us at PulpFest this past summer, how can you go wrong with bi-planes and pterodactyls?

My personal favorite is William E. Barrett's Iron Ace, which by the way I would recommend to any pulp fan, not just those who like the air-war stuff. Barrett is best known for his novels, Lilies of the Field and The Left Hand of God. His Iron Ace stories (from the 1930s Sky Birds magazines) were extremely well written; with more emotion and character development than you usually get from a pulp story. And there was a definite arc from the first story to the last one. That was also rare.

And of course the book we are most proud of is not an air-war tale at all. The Spider vs. the Empire State was Chris Kalb’s dream project. His cover and interior designs have both won awards and it is by far our best selling title.

Michael: Let’s say someone has enjoyed every Age of Aces title available and is still craving more like it. What classic pulp would you suggest he or she read that would be comparable to yours?

Bill: I would point them to our web site where they can download lots of free, public domain air pulp stories to satisfy their appetites. They can download the complete series of Coffin Kirk stories by Arch Whitehouse from Flying Aces magazine. Everyone will enjoy these stories of an American ace, fighting both the Germans and the Japanese, assisted by his co-pilot/tail gunner who happens to be a trained ape. Really! Would I make that up?

Michael: Thanks so much for talking to me, Bill!

Bill: And thanks for letting me talk a little about Age of Aces.

***
I knew talking to Bill would be beneficial. I’m totally adding Coffin Kirk and Strange War to my reading pile along with The Spider vs. The Empire State. I’ll come back for Red Falcon and some of the others later.

2 comments:

  1. Even though I don't really care for the Spider, I bought their edition of The Spider vs. The Empire State because it was so damned gorgeous!

    I haven't read much aviation pulp (though I did enjoy Airboy in the 80s). Maybe I'll try the Philip Strange book....

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  2. Thanks for covering this great outfit. As a lover of all aviation pulps, AGE OF ACES is just to this fan, aces!!

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