Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)-Part Five

In his introduction to Thirty Years of Arkham House, 1939-1969 (1970), August Derleth predicted that the coming decade would be the last for the firm that he had co-founded in 1939. He didn't give any reason as to why he thought Arkham House was near its end. Maybe he was looking forward to retirement. Maybe he had experienced a premonition of his own imminent passing, then only a year or so into the future. In any case, Arkham House turned thirty in 1969. Derleth was then twice that age. Today we would consider a man of sixty to be relatively young. In the years leading up to his death, however, August Derleth had struggled with his weight and other health problems. (1) The end came suddenly. On July 4, 1971, after having walked home from the post office, the Wisconsin author suffered a heart attack that proved fatal before the arrival of midday. Although they had never met, Lee Brown Coye later wrote: "His death was a real shock to me . . . because he was a dear and personal friend." (2)

One of Derleth's final planned projects was a collection called Worse Things Waiting written by Manly Wade Wellman and illustrated by Lee Brown Coye. That book was not to be, at least under the Arkham House imprint. Instead, with the settling of Derleth's estate, the project was cancelled and Coye received a $100 kill fee. "It sort of took the starch out of me," Coye wrote after Derleth was gone. "Since those days, things have changed, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to make a living in my field for an artist with a modest reputation." (3) With the future of Arkham House in doubt, Lee Brown Coye, at age sixty-five, had reason to question his own viability as an artist of the fantastic.

Enter Karl Edward Wagner.

Born on December 12, 1945 (4), in Knoxville, Tennessee, Karl Edward Wagner was a bright flame that burned out quickly. Trained as a psychiatrist, he looked like a cross between a Teutonic warrior and a bouncer at a biker bar. His appetites were prodigious and eventually did him in. But in 1972, he was still young and still preparing for a career in medicine (more or less). He was also a fan of fantasy and weird fiction. As a student in and out of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, he, along with David Drake and Jim Groce, founded Carcosa, a small publishing house meant to take up where Arkham House seemed to be leaving off. (5) Lee Brown Coye's association with Karl Edward Wagner began in late 1972 when Wagner wrote to the artist, asking if he would create a dust jacket design for Worse Things Waiting. Coye responded with an offer to illustrate the whole book, and so, in 1973, Carcosa published Wellman's collection, complete with nearly three dozen stories and poems and illustrated throughout by Coye. It was the first of only four books issued by Carcosa. (6) All were edited by Karl Edward Wagner. 

Wagner recalled how his story "Sticks" came about:
In working with Lee Brown Coye on Wellman’s Worse Things Waiting, I finally asked him why his drawings so frequently included sticks in their design. Lee’s work is well known to me, but I had noticed that the “sticks” only began to appear in his work for Ziff-Davis in the early 60s. Lee finally sent me a folder of clippings and letters, far more eerie than this story–and factual.
The folder included Coye's "Chips & Shavings" columns. In a letter to Wagner, perhaps accompanying the same folder, Coye offered some background:
Derleth never did get around to write a story about [the sticks]. He had the same material you have, and was interested enough to outline [a story] and was going to write it up, but it went by the boards. [. . .] Believe me, what I wrote personally in the columns is the truth. It was weird stuff and had a big influence on my drawings. (7)
In one way or another, Wagner had inherited Worse Things Waiting from August Derleth. He seems to have inherited the tale of the stick lattices as well. A man of youth and vigor, he did something with them both, and so "Sticks" was written and published and sent out into the wide world at last.

To be continued . . . 

(1) Born on February 24, 1909, August William Derleth would have been 106 years old today. Happy Birthday, Comte d'Erlette.
(2) Quoted in Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye by Luis Ortiz (2005), p. 146.
(3) Ditto.
(4) Exactly a week after Flight 19 disappeared off the Florida coast.
(5) David Drake (b. 1945) is a prolific author of science fiction and fantasy. Jim Groce is a psychiatrist. "It was entirely Karl’s baby," Mr. Drake wrote of the founding of Carcosa, "though the initial capital came from Jim and me." From "The Truth Insofar As I Know It" by David Drake, in Exorcisms and Ecstasies (1997).
(6) The others were: Far Lands Other Days by E. Hoffman Price and illustrated by George Evans (1975); Murgunstrumm and Others by Hugh B. Cave and illustrated by Lee Brown Coye (1977); and Lonely Vigils by Manly Wade Wellman and illustrated by George Evans (1981).
(7) Quoted in Ortiz, p. 148. The brackets are Mr. Ortiz's.

Worse Things Waiting by Manly Wade Wellman and illustrated by Lee Brown Coye (Carcosa, 1973). Note the stick lattice.

Far Lands Other Days by E. Hoffman Price and illustrated by George Evans (Carcosa, 1975).

Murgunstrumm and Others by Hugh B. Cave and illustrated by Lee Brown Coye (Carcosa, 1977). More sticks.

Lonely Vigils by Manly Wade Wellman and illustrated by George Evans (Carcosa, 1981).

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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