Friday, 20 April 2012

But Enough About Me... #4

As the excellent Anno Dracula novels by the great and good Mr. Kim Newman are currently enjoying renewed success thanks to the spiffy re-issues escaping the velvet-lined coffins over at the UK's venerable Titan Books, it seems like a fine time to hype a more obscure item from Kim's bibliography.

Where the Bodies are Buried, published twelve years ago as a limited edition by Alchemy Press, features cover art by Sylvia Starshine, interior art by Randy Broecker, and an admiring introduction by yours truly, along with the four WtBaB novelettes by Mr. N which had previously appeared individually in the late 90s. The small-but-perfectly-formed hardcover is signed by all four of us and a few copies, it turns out, are still available. I'd put a direct link here to Alchemy's checkout cart but, as you know, I'm morally above such naked hucksterism too stupid to know how to do that. What I will do, though, is reprint my introduction in the hope it might encourage some of you to go buy a copy and help keep Kim in the frock-coats and fob-watches he wears with such elan.    


Where the Bodies are Buried: Introduction

England, 1869. The poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti knew where the body was buried. After all, he'd buried it. It was (or used to be) his wife, the former Elizabeth Siddall. Rossetti, as a final act of husbandly devotion upon her untimely passing seven years earlier, had folded into her dead hand the manuscripts -- the only manuscripts -- of many of his unpublished poems and buried them with her. Now, several texts short of a volume and with a publisher breathing down his neck, Rossetti had a tough decision to make. He made it. In one of the most famous acts of literary (and literal) grave robbing in the history of English Letters, he had Lizzie exhumed and the manuscripts retrieved. They were published the following year to great, albeit transitory, acclaim.

Kim Newman is a grave robber, too. And we should all be very grateful. Because Kim isn't digging up former spouses and stealing parting gifts to make himself a few bob: he's finding buried treasure. Or, in many cases, finding buried dross and, via the alchemy of his synthesising imagination, transforming it into gold.

Kim is one of our most skilled raiders of the collective unconscious, particularly those areas of it marked by the iconography of popular culture. His Anno Dracula books (three so far and more to come, I hope) are richly-detailed tapestries woven from a thousand histories, both real and fictional. The Night Mayor, his first novel, explores -- with tremendous panache and finely-tuned narrative skills -- a world populated by cyber-ghosts from the world of Film Noir. In his collaborations with Eugene Byrne (collected as Back in the USSA), characters we all know -- and as disparate as Buddy Holly and The Likely Lads -- appear in alternate incarnations, simultaneously charming us with the warmth of the familiar and thrilling us with the shock of the new.

One of the many pleasures of reading this strand of Kim's fiction is matching your own storehouse of memories against his -- playing a kind of catch-the-reference-before-he-explains-it game with the author. The good news is the game is open to anyone. The bad news is you'll nearly always lose. Kim will kick your ass. He just knows more about that shit than practically anyone else. If you're lucky enough to know Kim personally and have the balls for it, you can even play the game (or variants thereof) in the flesh. You should be warned, in fact, that Kim is always playing. No starting whistle. No half-time. If you're blathering on about some black-haired B-movie babe from fifties sci-fi then don't for Christ's sake confuse your Barbara Rushes with your Dana Wynters. Kim'll be all over you like Vinnie Jones in a Cup match. He shows no mercy and takes no prisoners. This stuff is important to him. Partly because, I suspect, it is so vitally important to his art. Indeed, on those extremely rare occasions when Kim does make a mistake, he is mortified beyond all reason. I remember him rushing up to me at a convention some years ago and referring to his recent in-print confusion of two Kurosawa movies in the tone of horrified and apologetic guilt that one traditionally reserves for telling your mate you got his sister pregnant and that you hope it won't affect her chances of promotion at the nunnery. I bought him a pint and did my best to help calm him down but I think the wound stayed open for days.

Kim is also, as many of you may know, a respected film critic and scholar. As well as his vituperatively entertaining reviews in various magazines, he is the author of Nightmare Movies and Wild West Movies and a contributor to and/or editor of several other reference books. The body of his critical work reveals that Kim is not only extremely knowledgeable about the films themselves but also of the muddied and confused circumstances in which the vast majority of films get made. He might, in the abstract, be as much of a sucker for the auteur theory as the rest of us but on a case-by-case basis he certainly seems refreshingly familiar with the chaos and compromise that are actually the parents of most celluloid babies. This knowledge is based, in part at least, on his own little adventures in the screen trade. Several of Kim's fictions have been optioned for movie adaptation and he's certainly suffered through his own share of pointless meetings, pinhead producers, and squandered opportunities, both in London and out here in Hollywood. Living and working here as I do, I've enjoyed considerably more day-to-day confrontations with the absurdities of The Development Process than Kim has, but quantity isn't really the issue. The faces behind the desks may change but the platitudes, hidden agendas, and smiling lies (which, trust me, eventually flow freely from both sides of the desk) remain the same. And Kim's a smart guy. It doesn't take him long to learn.

Fortunately, it also doesn't take him long to recognise fertile ground for fiction. After all, we all know what the best fertiliser is, don't we? The stories you're about to read and enjoy -- flowers of the imagination blossomed improbably from the dung of B-movie reality -- first appeared episodically in anthologies edited by those worthy gentlemen Stephen Jones and David Sutton. Collected together here and illustrated by the remarkable Randy Broecker and Sylvia Starshine, they now form a long, albeit fractured, narrative. The book isn't exactly a novel but it's not exactly a collection either. In fact, what it most reminds me of (and I hasten to add I'm not referring in any way to the book's quality) is the literary equivalent of one of those peculiarities of the 1960s -- a theatrical movie cobbled together from various episodes of a TV series. The thought of form imitating content in that way brings a smile to my lips and I hope it will do the same for Kim. Because he's exactly the kind of bastard that could tell you which episodes of The Man from Uncle were stitched together to give us The Karate Killers.