Monday, October 17, 2011

PULPTACULAR | Black Coat Press

I’m continually surprised at the diversity of New Pulp publishers. Airship 27 is dedicated primarily to telling new stories with classic pulp characters, Pro Se focuses mainly on new characters with a classic feel, and folks like Age of Aces and Altus are mostly about reprinting classic pulp in a new way. Those are all excellent approaches and I’m ashamed to admit that my limited imagination prevented me from thinking of other reasons for publishing New Pulp beyond them. I figured that the rest of the publishers I looked at would fall into one of those three categories. It only took the next couple of publishers on the list to show me how incomplete my thinking was.

According to its website, Black Coat Press is “primarily devoted to publishing English-language translations of classics of French popular literature” with a focus on science fiction, fantasy and mystery. They also deal in some classic French comics and stage plays.

My knowledge of French adventure fiction begins and ends with Jules Verne, but I’m pretty familiar with some English translations of French comics like Asterix, Blacksad, and The Killer and the works of guys like Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, and Jacques Tardi. I really sort of love French comics, so I’m excited by the possibility of reading English translations of some of their adventure prose too.

Browsing Black Coat’s front page, the first book to catch my eye was Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. It’s not a unique concept, I know, but I haven’t actually read a book or film about that yet, so it would be new to me. The cover to Amilec looks wonderfully strange and though I’m cautious about digging into an eighteenth century trilogy of satire travelogues in the tradition of Tom Swift, I’m curious to see what a modern translation does with that kind of prose.

More exciting to me though is The Nyctalope Steps In, an upcoming collection of 15 stories about a French character who’s arguably the world’s first superhero (he first appeared in 1911). Most of the stories are from the 1920s and ‘30s, but I’m especially fascinated by the prospect of the title story, published in 1942, in which the Nyctalope’s creator uses the character to come to terms with the Nazis occupation of France. The book’s got a beautiful cover by Ladrönn (Elephantmen, Green Arrow/Black Canary, The Spirit) too.

The Black Coat site divides its catalog into nine sections: Mysteries/Thrillers, Gothic/Fantasy, Science Fiction, Children’s, Stage Plays, Screenplays, Comics, Non-Fiction, and Art Books. That’s a bit daunting, even when narrowing it down to genres and formats I’m partial to. Looking over the catalog doesn’t help; there’s just so much! The list is full of names I recognize – Holmes, Fantômas, Frankenstein, Fu Manchu – fighting people and going to places I really want to see them fight and go to. There’s even a book called Edgar Allan Poe on Mars. Overwhelmed, I decided to let co-founder, editor, and writer Jean-Marc “J-M” Lofficier help me add some things to my reading pile.

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

J-M: From a practical standpoint, the technology of print-on-demand made it possible for a small press like us to put out many books aimed at a rather limited audience without keeping a costly inventory. Also, the prodigious desire and ability of Brian Stableford to embark on a massive program of translations of French pulps, proto-SF and fantasy. It will be clear to anyone that without Brian our catalog would be but a shadow of what it is now.

On a personal level, I found it very satisfying to actually be in charge of a publishing venture myself, as opposed to dealing with publishers as an author. Not being best-selling authors, Randy (my wife and writing partner) and I never made that much money anyway, so this way if we don’t make more money, we’re at least in control. No one tells us what to do or not do and I never let commercial considerations affect our decisions. Not ever.

The lack of availability of translations – or sometimes good translations – of classic French pulps, SF, etc. on the English-speaking market always bothered me greatly. When I grew up in France, the same book imprints would publish Arsene Lupin next to Sherlock Holmes, the Black Coats next to the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Nyctalope next to Tarzan, etc. So from the start, our mission was to make English-language versions of a number of French classic works available to the American and English public.

Michael: What differentiates Black Coat from other New Pulp publishers?

J-M: In the practice, nothing, but we are the #1 publisher of translated French works in the US and likely the world. (I sometimes wish we would get more recognition for that.) And it’s not just the translations, but the erudite introductions and annotations by Brian Stableford or myself. Each work is located in its historical and literary context. A lot of effort goes into the presentation of the works.

Michael: Where did the name Black Coat come from?

J-M: From Paul Féval’s masterful saga, The Black Coats – seven volumes – published in the 1860s, which is really the founding stone of criminal fiction. It’s a little as if Balzac had decided to write the kind of stories that Conan Doyle or Mario Puzzo wrote much later.

Michael: Which one Black Coat 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 Black Coat represents?

J-M: It sort of depends. Our output falls into three categories: 1) Mystery/Thrillers/Pulps; 2) Gothic/Fantasy/Horror and 3) Science Fiction. Obviously what appeals to one reader may not appeal to another. For each category, my selection would be:

Mystery/Thrillers/Pulps: John Devil by Paul Féval: the first detective story ever.

Gothic/Fantasy/Horror: Lamekis by the Chevalier de Mouhy: a prodigious, post-modern 18th-century fantasy epic.

Science Fiction: The Blue Peril by Maurice Renard: a really creepy alien-encounter story from 1911.

Michael: Let’s say someone has enjoyed every Black Coat 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?

J-M: I don't think anyone else does what we do, but I understand there are newer and better translations of Jules Verne now available (I haven't read them myself) and I would warmly recommend that.

Thanks to J-M for talking with me about Black Coat and especially for the reading recommendations. I love all three of those categories, so clearly I have a lot of reading to do.

Next week: Broken Sea, another endeavor with a different spin on New Pulp.


  1. The covers to the Black Coat line are some of the most beautiful on the market today. They really do top notch books.

  2. I'd never even heard of The Nyctalope before, but I'm certainly intrigued now.

  3. JM and Randy are providing a marvelous service to pulp fans by helping them meet or become reacquainted with these French pulp stories. Like Mr. May, my knowledge of French pulp literature was pretty well limited to Verne and Lupin. I was amazed at the wealth of characters and stories that were there waiting for me to encounter. While I'm still not as up on these works as I probably should be at this point, it's great to have an outlet through which these works are available for me to obtain as time and finances allow. Im looking forward to reading more of these stories and heartily recommend them to anyone who loves pulp fiction of any genre.

  4. Er.. sorry. About Blacksad: Is published by a french house, yes. But both the writer and the artist are from Spain.

  5. Black Coat has some fascinating material and does a great job of introducing unique characters to the American market.

  6. Deka, you never have to apologize for fact-checking me. In this case though, I'm aware that Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido are Spanish, but as you say, it's published by a French publisher in the French language for a primarily French audience. That's French enough for me.

  7. By the way, Jean-Marc emailed me and asked me to share this message with everyone:

    "Thank you Michael for the interview; thank you Ron and John for the kind comments. We are in the process of making a number of our books -- starting with the French science fiction titles -- available on kindle, nook & other ebook formats for $5.99 so hopefully price won't be too much of an issue anymore if you don't mind reading ebooks. --Jean-Marc"

  8. Oh! That's good to know. I'll have to load a few onto the wife's Kindle. :)


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