We all have to start somewhere, even National Treasures like Howard Waldrop.
Howard — or H’ard, as our mutual friend Gardner Dozois used to call him — came into this world on September 15, 1946, which makes him even older than me. (Yes, that is also the day Jetboy died and the wild card virus was loosed upon an unsuspecting world, which is not as coincidental as you might think). He started making up stories almost immediately, before he could even talk. I think his first word was “Shemp,” but that may be an urban legend. It was a couple of years before he started writing, but once his little hands were strong enough to start pounding the keys on a manual typewriter, there was no stopping him. He wrote and wrote and wrote. And no one wrote like H’ard.
Eventually people began publishing his stories. Fanzine editors at first. Howard was there at the birth of comics fanzines in the 1960s, the same as I was. That was how we met, back in 1962, when I bought a copy of BRAVE & BOLD #28 (Starro the Conquerer, yay!) for a quarter. Howard had only paid a dime for it, so he made a big profit. He was always a canny businessman. We started corresponding after that, when stamps were only three cents, although we did not meet in person until a convention in Kansas City in 1972.
Those were heady days in comics fandom, and for me and Howard too. We both began to publish stories around the same time (Publish, not sell, no one was paying us a penny) in fanzines like CORTANA, HERO, and STAR-STUDDED COMICS, the big photo offset zine from the Texas Trio. (Howard lived in Texas. I did not). I was writing amateur superhero stories starring characters created by the Trio, like Powerman and Dr. Weird, and some of my own creation, like Manta Ray, the White Raider, and Garizan the Mechanical Warrior. Howard, though publishing in comics fanzines, stayed clear of superfolks (well, until Jetboy). His stories featured Roman legionaries, the Three Musketeers, hardboiled PIs in small Texas towns, a swordsman called Wanderer, the Flying Wing, and… well, pretty much anything and everything.
None of us knew quite what to make of Howard, or his stories. But we loved them.
In the due course of time, the prozines started to take note as well. Howard’s first professional sale was a story called “Lunchbox,” which the legendary John W. Campbell Jr. bought for ANALOG a few weeks before he died. I made my first sale right around the same time, a story called “The Hero,” to GALAXY. Other sales followed, for both of us. Eventually both of us had published enough stories to publish collections. Howard called his HOWARD WHO?
But we knew.
He did not include everything in HOWARD WHO? though. He left out some of his early professional sales, and of course all those fanzine stories. Some of those had been published on ditto’ed fanzines that were fading more with every passing day, and were in danger of being lost to the ages.
We couldn’t have that. So I got together with my friend Bradley Denton (an amazing writer himself, author of BUDDY HOLLY IS ALIVE AND WELL ON GANYMEDE, which really needs to be a movie), and we put together a collection of Howard’s early work, most of it long out of print. We call it H’ARD STARTS: The Early Waldrop.
I’ve never edited an anthology that was more fun. We’ve got the Wanderer stories here, we’ve got Howard’s con reports (including his account of our first meeting), we’ve got “Lunchbox” and “Billy Big-Eyes” and “My Sweet Lady Jo,” and the never-before published “Davy Crockett Shoots the Moon,” a couple of plays he wrote in college, his essays for Crawdaddy (the one about the Flying Wing still moves me), even a sketch he wrote for Red Skelton, who did not buy it. (Imagine if he had, and Howard had gone on to a career writing comedy for television. That’s a truly Waldropian alternate world).
But there’s more than just fiction here. Brad sat down with Howard for days, and compiled an amazing set of interviews about the history of every one of these pieces. Howard’s recollections are not always accurate (I was there for some of them), but they are funny, and moving, and give us a peek into his own life, and the lost world we lived in during the 60s and 70s.
And now Subterranean Press is bringing it out, in one of their gorgeous limited edition hardcovers.
Here’s the pre-order page: https://subterraneanpress.com/hstew/
All the money from the sale of H’ARD STARTS will be going to Howard himself.
Oh, and I almost forgot. All of the books are SIGNED. By Brad Denton. By yours truly. And by the one and only Howard Waldrop, his own self, sage of Austin, father of Jetboy, National Treasure.
Get yours now.
Current Mood: pleased