By Patrick R. McDonough
Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Thank you so much for giving us your time, Jonathan. I was so excited when you first announced the revival of Weird Tales. How did you become Editorial Director?
JONATHAN MABERRY (JM): I was first approached to write a story for the re-launch of Weird Tales, which I did –a swords and sorcery piece called “The Shadows Beneath the Stone”, a sort of grateful nod to the sorts of things I liked reading from the magazine’s earliest runs. Then they asked me if I would help gather more stories to flesh out the first issue. I agreed, but only on the condition that I have a free hand in curating those tales. I got the go-ahead and began mapping out my editorial plan.
DHR: The last issue, 362, was published a few years ago. Marvin Kaye is an editor for the latest issue, 363. Did he or any other previous Weird Tales editors speak with you before taking on the task?
JM: I had a completely free hand in selecting the stories. I’ve only ever met Marvin once, but I worked on my own to curate the stories and poetry for the relaunch.
DHR: What challenges, if any, did you face to get this magazine published?
JM: Well, Weird Tales has a rather interesting history. There are many inarguably great things about it, but it comes with a fair share of baggage. Some of that baggage speaks to the evolution of our culture. When WT was launched in the 1920s, things like racism, sexism, and homophobia were much more common. People of color had very little voice and very little agency with which to protest the godawful ways in which they were represented in all aspects of popular culture. Same goes for women, who were often marginalized to the point of being there to be either sex objects, helpless waifs to be rescued, or femme fatales. And if rare cases when anyone from the LGBQT communities appeared in those stories, they were treated as vile, weak, or as figures of fun. Even as a kid reading WT I noticed those things, and was particularly sensitive to them because my own father was a sexual abuser, racist, and was very homophobic. I saw that evil firsthand, and was subjected to all of the cowardly justifications for those actions and beliefs.
Now, this is not to say that these elements were present in all of the various incarnations of Weird Tales. They were not. Notably in Ann VanDerMeer’s award-winning tenure. That was a golden age of enlightened storytelling. However there were other issues –certainly not of her making—that marred the end of that run. Politics and bad choices caused Ann to leave, and the magazine suffered and then folded shortly thereafter.
So, all of this baggage was stacked up by the time I arrived. I’m not here to be an apologist, or to try and time-travel to undo wrongs. What I am doing, however, is honoring those things that made Weird Tales so great at so many times in its long history.
Oh, and one thing…some people seem to have gotten the wrong impression by my occasional comments about making sure WT isn’t polluted by sexism, racism, and homophobia. They think that means that I’m afraid of buying stories that shine a line or those issues or include them as part of the overall story. Hardly. All you have to do is read the first story I commissioned for WT, which is Victor LaValle’s scathing “Up from Slavery” in issue #363. What I won’t buy for WT are stories where it’s clear that authors whose own racism, sexism, and homophobia doesn’t shine through in their writing. We’re two decades into the 21st century. Wake the hell up.
DHR: Well said. I absolutely loved LaValle’s story. It set the tone for the rest of the magazine. What do you hope to achieve with this magazine?
JM: I love weird fiction. I love horror, thriller, fantasy, mystery and other genres that can be woven together into a tapestry that tells a compelling and unexpected story. I will do my level best to find voices from around the world who have unnerving and beautifully-written tales to tell. At the same time I’ll be showcasing new voices and innovative new styles. For example, not every sword and sorcery story will be a blood bath or feature coiling monsters; some may be more subtle in the way they approach the violence and the dark magic. And so on. I’ll be including poetry and flash fiction, because those forms of storytelling actually benefit from their brevity –less of a battle and more of a quick knife in the dark. And I’ll tap some of today’s most successful writers to revisit dark worlds they’ve already created for us, such as having Dacre Stoker (grandnephew of Bram Stoker) and his writing partner, Leverett Butts, spin us a new Renfield tale set in the world of Dracula; or have Robert McCammon write a prequel to his frightening novel They Thirst; or have Steve Niles take us back to the chilling events of 30 Days of Night. And I’ll be bringing in writers from around the world, because fear is part of the human experience, and I want to hear how scary stories are told by voices other than those here in America.
So…what do I hope to achieve? I intend to make this new incarnation of Weird Tales the very best it can be.
DHR: You’ve certainly started out on the right foot. Were you a fan of the magazine growing up?
JM: I was introduced to Weird Tales by L. Sprague de Camp, the author who brought Robert E. Howard’s fiction back decades after that author’s suicide. De Camp was a mentor of mine as a teen and young adult, and I spent time at his house learning about writing, and about the history of weird fiction. He had an enormous collection of original issues of Weird Tales and lent me many copies in the mid-1970s. I’d already started reading the Lancer Books reprints of Conan, and reprints of CL Moore’s Jirel of Joiry, and was hooked on swords and sorcery; but de Camp introduced me to HP Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, Seabury Quinn, and many others. I was a fan from the first issues I read. That has never changed.
DHR: Now that is an interesting history within itself—your mentor and how you are adding to the cannon of WT. Do you have a favorite Weird Tales author?
JM: It’s a three-way tie, I’m afraid. I absolutely loved the occult detective stories, notably Manly Wade Wellman’s Judge Pursuivant and Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin; but also the heroic fantasy of Robert E. Howard’s King Kull.
DHR: What do you think about Lovecraft’s work?
JM: I have something of a love-hate relationship with Lovecraft, and I know that there is some heresy in saying it. I absolutely love the Cthulhu Mythos tales, but I dislike much of what I’ve read about Lovecraft the man. He had deep intolerances that I can’t excuse as merely being ‘of the time’. And, I also think some of the best Lovecraftian stories were written by other writers, such as August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and other contemporaries. But also many Cthulhu stories written in the years since, such as those by Brian Lumley, Mike Mignola, Joanna Russ, Stephen King, Yvonne Navarro, Caitlín R. Kiernan
Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Poppy Z. Brite, Gregory Frost, Richard A. Lupoff, Elizabeth Bear, and many others. Lovecraft created something amazing, and I will forever admire his vision, and also his generosity in allowing other writers to play with his strange toys.
That said, there are works of Lovecraft that I dearly love. “At the Mountains of Madness” is a classic, and a particular favorite of mine. Others I deeply admire are “Dagon”, “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, and a generous handful of others. Of all his work, though, I most love his poetry. And that is true, too, of Robert E. Howard. I always felt they were at their best when conjuring dark verse.
DHR: The latest issue’s cover is a tribute to the October 1933 issue. I absolute love that. Margaret Brundage, the illustrator for that particular issue, fascinates me. I take it you are a fan of her as well?
JM: I used to have Margaret Brundage covers framed on my walls. She was able to conjure such dark magic with her art, while also creating enduring pieces of art.
DHR: Agreed. Abigail Larson did the front cover as well as the inside back cover for the latest issue. She’s a fantastic artist! How did you decide on using her?
JM: Naturally, as a teenage boy I was attracted to the scantily-clad women (such as on the covers of the November 1935 and March 1938), but I quickly matured into appreciating those covers that captured the sinister moods of the stories. Favorites include the ‘Priestess of the Labyrinth’ cover from January 1945; ‘Beyond the Threshold’ from September 1941; the ‘Avenger from Atlantis’ cover from July 1935; and the December 1935 cover, ‘The Hour of the Dragon’, because a woman was rescuing Conan. Rather a nice twist for an issue with a Conan cover.
My all-time favorite Weird Tales cover, though, is actually Hannes Bok’s brilliant skeleton at a writing desk from November, 1941. I felt a real kinship to that one, and it was one of the few WT covers I had framed that was not by Brundage. The other was Harold S. De Lay’s January 1941 ‘Dragon Moon’ cover.
DHR: Ha, that skeleton at the writing desk is surely very relatable to many writers. And, please forgive my ignorance, but is the picture on the inside back cover from a particular story?
JM: Nope. Just another deliciously creepy piece of art by Abigail Larson.
DHR: This issue has a phenomenal lineup of authors: Victor LaValle, Josh Malerman, Lisa Morton, yourself, Sherrilyn Kenyon, the sensational poet Stephanie M. Wytovich, and a few more. They really represent the diversity and expansiveness of the new wave of weird fiction. Did it take a while to cultivate all of that talent?
JM: Once I was asked to curate the first issue I knew at once who I wanted in the first issue. Just as I have a clear vision for the next few issues. However, each writer was carefully chosen and the stories they wrote for us are amazing.
DHR: Speaking of which, your story, The Shadows beneath the Stone, was killer! When history-fiction is done like your tale, it only makes me want to read more. Was that story influenced by anything in particular? Is any of it based off of historical people or events?
JM: I’ve always had a deep interest in the politics of the Crusades, and have included elements of the Templars story in some of my novels, notably Assassins Code. And my love of folklore, which I’ve explored in a number of my nonfiction books (Vampire Universe, The Cryptopedia, They Bite, and Wanted Undead or Alive) informed my desire to give the main character, Julian Gunn (aka Julian Touched by God) a knowledge of what my grandmother used to call the ‘larger world’. I love stories that combine folklore with action. The Hellboy comics by my friend Mike Mignola are perfect examples, and the ‘John the Balladeer’, or Silver John, stories by Manly Wade Wellman, also blend folklore, horror, monsters, and action.
DHR: The descriptors and dialogue come off seamlessly. Did your story require a lot of research?
JM: I did quite a bit of research, but I’m almost always in research mode. It’s fair to say that I’m a research junkie.
DHR: One last thing about your story. I love Harimella, your crow character. Could you see yourself owning, or perhaps, befriending a crow?
JM: I’ve always loved crows. My grandmother had one, and there’s a family of them living in a palm tree outside of my condo. And, although I have a small dog, I could not in good conscience keep a bird as a pet. They are born to fly. I rather like meeting them here and there and making the acquaintance of the occasional crow.
DHR: Is there anything you can discuss right now about what is in store for the future for Weird Tales?
JM: We have a lot of great stuff lined up for the next few issues, including original tales by Charlaine Harris, Robert McCammon, Joe Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale, Seanan McGuire, Marie Whittaker, Rena Mason, Usman T, Malik, Marguerite Reed, Weston Ochse, Gregory Frost, Lee Murray, Gabrielle Faust, Tim Waggoner, Jewelle Gomez, Fran Wilde, Heather Graham, Gaby Triana, Jacopo della Quercia, Yvonne Navarro, and others. And poetry by Allesandro Manzetti, Anne Walsh, Linda Addison, Bruce Boston and others. Plus we’ll be doing some special issues, including one with stories written by teens. Weird Tales is back –dark, strange, and a hell of a lot of weird fun.
DHR: It certainly sounds like it. I’m sure others would agree with this, but we’re all in for a hell of a treat with what’s to come of Weird Tales.
You can follow Jonathan on:
Main Website: Jonathanmaberry.com