Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Remembering Howard - Bold Venture Bulletins #5

Golden Perils

Everyone in the New Pulp community is saddened by the loss of Howard Hopkins, author and editor of numerous westerns, anthologies, and stories in various other genres. He died Thursday, January 12th, 2012. We hadn’t seen each other in years, but had rekindled our correspondence recently through Moonstone Books, and I considered him a pretty good friend.
Then I realized that several members of the “community” probably never had the good fortune to meet him in person.

Joe Gentile, publisher of Moonstone Books, told me that I had a month to deliver a story for the forthcoming Spider anthology. That was almost a month ago. I’ve written 200 words. Likewise, the Audio Comics Company is expecting me to deliver two more Domino Lady scripts, which I could have finished over the holiday. They are closer to completion now, but why so long?
I was wrestling with this problem the other day, during a long aimless drive – I am an aspiring writer with no apparent desire to write.

My attention span is feeble at best. This was a problem all throughout school, when a teacher’s words were lost to day dreams about comic book characters. And I was really trying to listen. Now the internet and television conspire with laziness to further distract me.

I hate sitting alone at the keyboard, since I’m alone most of the time. If I’m home on the weekend watching a movie or reading a book, it’s not because I prefer them to the company of women. Occasionally, a woman enters my life, and everything seems wonderful. The world takes on the colors of the rainbow. The tainted oxygen of Trenton smells like honeysuckle.
Eventually, boredom and complacency settle into the relationship, and the woman drifts away to find someone more suitable for her. I’m left with adequate time to write more thrill-packed pulp stories that never come to fruition.

So, I’m sitting in my shabby apartment, watching the Polish neighbors hammer away at their rooftop in the fading sunlight, wondering if I’m really interested in pursuing that writing career. Now that the opportunities are here, it seems like another burden to be answered with the lackadaisical attitude that has colored most aspects of my life.

Earlier today, I read this passage on Howard Hopkin’s facebook® page:

“Some days it is more difficult being a writer than others. Some days the words won't come, or the ones that do just suck. Or maybe sales take a dump or somebody leaves a you bad review. Maybe the sound of your author ‘voice’ sounds like nails on a chalkboard. But we need those days...because it is in times like that you either ‘hold 'em or fold 'em.’ It's when you grow, and know that, ‘Yeah, this is my passion, what I was meant to be.’”

I like that last part – “Hold ‘em or fold ‘em” – since I approach writing with far less romanticism than my peers. It’s good advice, but it packs an extra punch since Howard wrote it approximately twenty-four hours before he passed away.

Howard was only fifty years old, and took pretty good care of himself, which makes his death all the more surprising.

Howard worked hard to achieve ... I don’t know what to call his career at this point, but he had several irons in the fire. His passing writes the closing chapter on several collaborations and editorial projects.

I’m feeling somewhat guilty for pissing away opportunities to contribute to books and magazines, now that Howard can no longer contribute. Here’s a guy who worked night and day, and often chided me for failing to apply myself – just like my friend, the unflappable C.J. Henderson. In the past two years, I have often found myself wondering, “How did Howard manage to land that assignment?” or “How did Howard get connected with so-and-so?”
True Grit, apparently, and it paid off. The old boy wrote dozens and dozens of westerns under the penname Lance Howard, and it culminated in a new Lone Ranger novel, soon to be published from Moonstone Books.

Clearly, as an author, my old pulp pal had arrived.

Now he’s departed the mortal coil, just when he should be basking in that dusty limelight.
I liken it to singer Roy Oribison’s death in 1988, at the height of his comeback. Couldn’t he have stuck around a little longer to enjoy his success?

But Howard probably wouldn’t have had time for it. The best we would have gotten from him was a heartfelt acknowledgement, in the form of a quick word on facebook®, before he began writing the next story, or editing the next anthology.

Keep ‘em moving ...

Pulp Parlor
Most New Pulp practitioners, I’m guessing, never met Howard Hopkins in person. Their interaction with him was limited to telephone or email. In the Old Days, Summer 1985, I met him in Dayton at Pulpcon 14. I was invited to a semi-private screening of Green Hornet episodes. This was the Paleolithic era of VHS cassette tapes.

The Green Hornet hadn’t been syndicated on Philadelphia television since Never. I listened to the original radio dramas (on vinyl LP phonograph records) and imagined Van Williams and Bruce Lee in the roles, with some help from trading cards with scenes from the television show. This was a Golden Opportunity.

One by one, we crept to this pop culture speakeasy, and settled in while our host rummaged through his hand-labeled cassettes. His inability to decipher his own hand-writing gave us plenty of time to get acquainted.

Howard Hopkins and I exchanged introductions. He was holding a copy of Justice, Inc., the first issue of The Avenger, which he had purchased earlier that day in the dealer room.
“How much?” I asked.

One dealer wanted thirty-five dollars for a wrinkled copy. Another dealer was asking for twenty-five dollars for a more satisfactory copy.

“I was seriously thinking of buying it,” Howard said, “when I decided to walk around the dealer room one more time. Finally, this one dealer had a high-grade copy--” (He gestured with the pulp) “—and he only wanted fifteen dollars. I figured I wasn’t going to do any better.”
I congratulated him on his prize – like big-game hunters exchanging tall tales – and our host dimmed the lights. He finally located the correct tape, and remembered how to operate the video-machine. A title card triumphantly announcing The Green Hornet – In Color filled the television screen.

That was my first meeting with Howard Hopkins, and it began a friendship that lasted over twenty-five years (if you overlook a period when we fell out of touch in the late 1990s). There were numerous telephone calls, letters and postcards, and collaborations on issues of his pulp-themed fanzine Golden Perils. I found a copy-shop where a sympathetic friend would print the issues under the table for a phenomenal discount price.

Once, my college-student budget prevented me from making a car repair, and I spent the money intended for Golden Perils #18 on my ’85 Dodge Charger. Thank God the long distance prevented me from telling him in person. Howard sounded understanding enough over the telephone. He sent me another check, and the subscribers didn’t suspect a thing. I saved my money and paid for the printing of the next issue.

In 1989, I visited pulp collector Chuck Juzek at his home in Nanuet, NY, and together we drove north to the Portland, Maine area for Howard’s wedding. It was a journey marked with pleasant conversation and screaming arguments, both ways, but we behaved ourselves at the wedding. Well, I danced and flirted a particularly attractive relative of Howard’s – Twenty-two years later, I still wish I had made a move on her.

In lieu of a bachelor party, Howard opted for a midnight screening of Batman. Milking the event for all it was worth, which was a great deal that summer, the theater chains forced audiences to impatiently sit through thirty minutes of trailers. The Star Trek IV trailer seemed like it would never end. When Batman was over, and the lights went up, we left the theater discussing this atonement for the Adam West television series.

“I thought it was terrific!” Chuck declared.

“Yeah,” Howard agreed. “Dominique kept telling me to give Michael Keaton a chance. I’m gonna be eating a lot of crow over this.”

Howard hated The Amazing Spider-Man television series starring Nicholas Hammond, wanted all the episodes of The Incredible Hulk on VHS, and swore allegiance to Doc Savage and The Avenger. He always thought that James Bama’s painting for Devil On the Moon was a photograph. And Dust of Death. I always preferred Death In Silver, the pulp and the paperback.
Though the motion picture of The Shadow was a disappointment to some, Howard enjoyed it. It became one of his favorite movies. When the ring premium was offered, he purchased the silver version, since it was less expensive and he preferred silver to gold. Dominique (his wife) liked Alec Baldwin as The Shadow, especially the scenes where he went shirtless. I suspect Howard was taking some teasing for that. Her Baby Snookums impression always irritated him.
One weekend, Howard and Dominique visited Chuck Juzek in Nanuet, NY. Their visit coincided with my visit. I was driving the “Scarlet Wasp” to the local Barnes & Noble, when, in a routine moment of fat-headed stubbornness, Chuck said something offensive to my naturally unflappable senses. I responded with an appropriately acidic comment. Chuck became enraged. Insults were hurled from driver to passenger. Our voices reached a fevered crescendo, and stern silence followed. I had sufficiently xxxx the monster.

“You see, Honey?” Dominique’s voice cracked the silence from the back seat. “I told you it was only a matter of time before they started arguing.”

“Yeah,” Howard replied with a sigh. “I was going to say, these guys had been pretty mellow all weekend.”

Infuriating in the present, but now heart-warming with an amber coating of nostalgia. Good times. Especially considering that Chuck was wrong, and I was right. Whatever the argument was about.

Eventually, Howard decided to shut down Golden Perils as a regular fanzine and pursue his dream of being a writer. “If you just want to make a quick sale,” he told me, “write western stories. There’s a publisher in England that will publish them, and you don’t have to be as knowledgeable about the west, as you would if you were writing for an American publisher.”
He liked Dark Shadows, and attended the conventions if they were close by.

And that’s where Howard and I parted company for a few years. Money was tight and his car was breaking down. Once eBay appeared, he had a venue to sell pulp magazines for a high return, in those early speculator-driven days. Money was tight, and he opted to sell, rather than hoard, pulp magazines.

That ended his regular appearances at Pulpcon. Why surround yourself with pulpy treasures if you don’t have the finances to indulge, he reasoned.

He had plenty of friends at Pulpcon, who gladly offered him rides, a place to sleep, and perhaps even a little money. I often wondered how to entice him into traveling to New Jersey for my Pulp Adventurecon, but Howard didn’t want to accept “charity,” no matter how much people looked forward to his company.

I understand the reasoning, although we were disappointed that we would share another Pulpcon weekend without him. And it created a large gap in our pulpy acquaintance.
I heard that he moved, got a new phone number, and continued writing western novels. There were little blips of correspondence beginning again in 2004 and 2005. It wasn’t until Moonstone Books enetered the picture that we began corresponding again.

Howard was approached by Joe Gentile to contribute to their Avenger anthologies on the strength of The Grey Nemesis, his heartfelt volume documenting the series. I had approached Joe about licensing The Spider while Bold Venture Press was still publishing the reprints.
Fancy meeting you here, we might have said in person. But we met again through email, several states away with Moonstone’s Illinois home as our point of reference. Eventually, I did prepress and design on The Avenger Chronicles II, a volume edited by Howard. We were just putting the finishing touches on Sherlock Holmes: The Crossover Casebook when I was given the sad news.
Howard Hopkins, my old pulp pal, has died?

It seems like we traveled similar paths, sort of, while trying to accomplish the same goals – to publish, to write, to preserve the spirit of the pulp magazines while moving the fiction forward, to go beyond what the Wordsmiths of the Golden Age had given us. Now, it 2012, long after we gathered for a private screening of The Green Hornet, I suppose we’ve come full circle. We began as pulp fiction collectors, and end as pulp fiction authors.

Now if only the story had a happy ending. I suppose it’s up to me to come up with one.
My friend pursued a dream and accomplished it. I was fortunate to know him before he embarked on the journey – years later, I congratulated him and expressed some envy on his progress. Howard was everyone’s friend, judging by the outpouring of messages from family, friends, and fellow writers. But, I was lucky enough to actually spend time in his presence -- hanging out with him pawing through boxes of dusty old magazines, haunting second-hand bookstores, watching movies and wolfing down a few meals at the local diners.
For those of you New Pulp scribes who weren’t fortunate enough to meet him – He was a terrific guy, just as you have already surmised. His work speaks for itself.

He’s even inspired me to get back to work, although writing this column was one of the dreariest tasks I’ve ever undertaken.

Ride off into the sunset, Lance Howard.

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