Friday, December 16, 2011

FFB: COMIX, and THE BLACK CASTLE and its sequels, by Les Daniels; DYING OF FRIGHT, edited by Les Daniels

Les Daniels died on 5 November, and I hadn't gotten around to mentioning that on the blog yet...Kate Laity, who's been a congoer to a much greater extent than I have, got to know him as a fixture at Necon, the small horror convention which takes over a college dorm and is often tabbed Camp Necon by its regulars, where Daniels enjoyed taking on all comers in the annual trivia fest in costume. The New York Times obit, and the Locus obit.

His Living in Fear, both a history of evolution of horror fiction and drama and related matters and also an anthology of short fiction, meant a lot to me as a young wasn't the first item of literary history and criticism that I'd read as a kid, but it was easily the most compelling to date when I came across it not long after it was published, as noted in a previous FFB entry. I read his Comix next, and, when it appeared, the more straightforward anthology Dying of Fright, a fine anthology in similar coffee-table format to Living in Fear (I managed to completely miss his third and last such book, an even better selection in some ways).
Comix wasn't the first history of comic books to be published, but might've been the best book-length study by a single writer published by 1971 (as usual, the Times manages to not quite get it right), and it was certainly the first run through the complete history of comics I was to read, and it did introduce me to Help! magazine and the late '60s underground scene, some of whose participants were, by the latter '70s, moving into more "above-ground" arenas or at least getting some current national newsstand exposure in the likes of National Lampoon and its offshoot, Heavy Metal, among other magazines and collections.

And his Don Sebastian vampire novels, which I would catch up with long after the first publication of the first, The Black Castle, in 1978 (I began reading them a decade later, as I recall), are a fine series of historical horror adventures, not quite the utter literary and pop-culture historian's delight that Kim Newman's later and not altogether dissimilar Anno Dracula series of novels and stories is, but well-written and rather deft at making their point that the evils Sebastian finds himself among, including the invasion of "the New World" by the Conquistadors or the London of Jack the Ripper, are often at least as great as any that can be encompassed by a vampire, no matter how mythically dangerous (and Sebastian is not to be trifled with)(and the Daniels novels are more consistent than the Newmans, where The Bloody Red Baron, recently reissued, is not quite up to the novel it follows nor most of the work which follows it).

Daniels only began publishing short fiction nearly a decade after his first novel, but the stories in such key anthologies of original fiction as Dennis Etchison's The Cutting Edge and Skipp and Spector's The Book of the Dead were witty and, as much as their content would allow, charming.

I'm very sorry I didn't get around to telling him directly how much his work meant to me.

from Tabula Rasa: Living with Fear: An Interview with Les Daniels

Les Daniels Bibliography

Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, 1971.
Living in Fear: A History of Horror in the Mass Media (aka Fear), 1975.
Dying of Fright: Masterpieces of the Macabre, ed. 1976.
Thirteen Tales of Terror, ed. with Diane Thompson. 1977.
The Black Castle, a Novel of the Macabre, 1978.
The Silver Skull, a Novel of Sorcery, 1979.
Citizen Vampire, 1981.
Yellow Fog, 1988 (this work originated in a novella published as a hardback special edition in 1986).
No Blood Spilled, 1991.
The Marvel Story, 1991.
The DC Story, 1995.
Superman: The Complete History, 1998.
Batman: The Complete History, 1999.
Wonder Woman: The Complete History, 2000.

from ISFDb:

Title: Dying of Fright: Masterpieces of the Macabre
Editor: Les Daniels
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons

The Adventure of the German Student • (1824) • shortstory by Washington Irving
The Masque of the Red Death • (1842) • shortstory by Edgar Allan Poe (aka The Mask of the Red Death)
Ethan Brand • (1850) • shortstory by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Squire Toby's Will • (1868) • novelette by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu [as by J. Sheridan Le Fanu]
The Upper Berth • (1885) • novelette by F. Marion Crawford
Lost Hearts • (1895) • shortstory by M. R. James
History of the Young Man With Spectacles • (1895) • shortstory by Arthur Machen
The Yellow Sign • (1895) • novelette by Robert W. Chambers
The Red Room • (1896) • shortstory by H. G. Wells
Oil of Dog • (1890) • shortstory by Ambrose Bierce
The Willows • (1907) • novelette by Algernon Blackwood
The Voice in the Night • (1907) • shortstory by William Hope Hodgson
August Heat • (1910) • shortstory by William Fryer Harvey [as by W. F. Harvey]
The Exiles' Club • (1915) • shortstory by Lord Dunsany (aka The Exile's Club)
The Call of Cthulhu • [Cthulhu Mythos] • (1928) • novelette by H. P. Lovecraft
A Visitor from Egypt • (1930) • shortstory by Frank Belknap Long
The Graveyard Rats • (1936) • shortstory by Henry Kuttner
Rope Enough • (1939) • shortstory by John Collier
They Bite • (1943) • shortstory by Anthony Boucher
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper • (1943) • shortstory by Robert Bloch
Homecoming • [The Elliott Famil] • (1946) • shortstory by Ray Bradbury (aka The Homecoming)
The House in Goblin Wood • (1947) • novelette by John Dickson Carr [as by Carter Dickson]
The Man Who Never Grew Young • (1947) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
Born of Man and Woman • (1950) • shortstory by Richard Matheson
Levitation • (1958) • shortstory by Joseph Payne Brennan

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.


George said...

I've read several of Les Daniels' books. You can tell he was really into his favorite subjects.

Todd Mason said...

And while they weren't perfect, his nonfiction books I've read were very worthwhile...