Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)-Part Six

All things come to an end, and generations pass, one to the next.

H.P. Lovecraft died in 1937. Two years later, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei founded Arkham House so that his stories might remain in print. Derleth himself passed away in 1971, and though Arkham House went on, other men--a new generation--stepped into the gap. Karl Edward Wagner, David Drake, and Jim Groce started Carcosa in 1972 to continue Derleth's work publishing weird fiction in hardback. Stuart David Schiff, a fan and collector, created Whispers of Arkham, a magazine to continue Derleth's own title, The Arkham Collector. The lawyers handling Derleth's estate didn't like the "Arkham" part, so the title was shortened to just Whispers. Inside the inaugural issue of July 1973, readers could find an illustration by Lee Brown Coye. (1)

Stuart David Schiff was and is a writer, editor, publisher, fan, and collector. In the early seventies, he was a dentist in the U.S. Army and stationed in North Carolina, where he had occasion to meet David Drake and Manly Wade Wellman. Schiff enlisted Drake's help in reading submissions for Whispers. In ten years on the job, Drake (also an Army veteran) read hundreds of manuscripts from the slush pile. In 2006, he wrote: "I’m glad to have helped Stuart keep short fantasy fiction alive during the ’70s when there was little or no other place for it." (2) Whispers and its editor have won universal praise and accolades, including a World Fantasy Award in 1975 for a "non-professional" magazine. Schiff published Whispers in twenty-four issues from 1973 to 1987.

Four years before Whispers #1 came out, Stuart Schiff had visited Lee Brown Coye in his studio in Hamilton, New York, and came away with a few pieces of artwork and an appreciation for the artist. "Soon after starting the magazine," wrote Coye's biographer, Luis Ortiz, "Schiff decided to do a Coye issue." Cartoonist Gahan Wilson would write an appreciation of his fellow Weird Tales artist (despite not knowing much about him), while Karl Edward Wagner would finally be the writer to turn Coye's Mann Brook experience of 1938 into a piece of fiction. At a penny per word, Wagner would earn a whopping $81 for his effort, not enough, according to Drake, to "cover rent and groceries for the time it took [him] to write [it]." (3) Wagner asked his editor to send half that payment to Lee Brown Coye, without whom the story would never have been written.

Whispers #3, the Lee Brown Coye issue, came out in March 1974. Coye provided a cover and seventeen interior illustrations going back to 1932 and his work for The Seventh Ogre. Gahan Wilson came through with an appreciation, as did Stuart Schiff. David Drake contributed a short story, "The Shortest Way," as did G.E. Symonds. Filling out the last quarter of the magazine is Karl Edward Wagner's "Sticks," a story that immediately broke out of Schiff's small magazine to win the British Fantasy Award and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award, both in 1975. "Sticks" has been reprinted more than two dozen times in the last forty years. It has also been adapted to other media, including, of course, the movie The Blair Witch Project (1999).

To be continued . . .

(1) That illustration is not listed in Luis Ortiz's biography of Coye but in The Internet Speculative Fiction Database.
(2) "Whispers Magazine" by David Drake, Nov. 22, 2006, on his website, here.
(3) From "The Truth Insofar As I Know It" by David Drake in Exorcisms and Ecstasies (1997), available online on a poorly designed website.

Whispers #3, the Lee Brown Coye issue, published in March 1974 with cover art by Coye showing more sticks, which aren't very much different from the emblematic stick motifs in The Blair Witch Project.

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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