|I own these guys, and others besides...|
When I first got into this “thing” --writing about sword-and-sorcery and heroic fantasy, on the internet, and launching The Silver Key blog, more than 15 years ago—I had no idea what I was doing, or why. Only that I had a powerful urge to write about stuff I loved, and a few ideas to share. That I suppose I hoped someone, somewhere, might read. And maybe even take some amount of pleasure in, or learn something new from my scribblings.
One of the first people to take notice of this blog on any scale was the late, lamented Cimmerian website, and the editor of its accompanying print journal, Leo Grin. Back in November 2007 Grin penned a short post praising my newbie efforts. That post is now gone, but the uplift it gave me remains.
A few months later website editor Steve Tompkins emailed to ask me to join a few other writers to contribute to the relaunch of The Cimmerian website, which was moving beyond its Howardian roots to include a broader focus on heroic fantasy and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Hell yeah. That decision took about three seconds to reach in the affirmative. Steve, I’m in.
Grin and Tompkins asked only that we post once a week and consistently hit our deadlines. That proved to be harder than expected with a full-time job that included travel. But I nailed it; I don’t think I ever missed a deadline.
Writing for the website led to my first submission for The Cimmerian print journal, which I believe was the first time I had ever been paid to write about fantasy, and, barring my work as a sports editor for a local newspaper, my first print appearance. Steve edited my piece, strengthened it significantly with some references to REH’s letters, and it went on to earn a nomination for best essay by the Robert E. Howard Foundation. I think Leo had some input on the essay as well.
The Cimmerian Journal was all killer, no filler, and served this space far better than any publication since perhaps Amra. Others have attempted similar projects and journals, most of which either faded away or failed. This should come as no surprise, given publishing reality. I have a pretty good idea of the time and effort that goes into high-quality print productions. The time required vs. the financial return just isn’t there. These efforts only work as a labor of love.
I don’t know how Grin did it but for five years he produced an incredibly high-quality, regular print journal with outstanding essays by the likes of Glenn Lord, Don Herron, and Mark Finn, reviews, recaps of Howard Days, original research, contentious and fun letters to the editor, and much more. Poetry by the likes of Richard Tierney and Darrell Schweitzer, for example. One of my favorite all-time essays, not just in the pages of The Cimmerian but favorite essays, period, was Steve Tompkins’ “The Shortest Distance Between Two Towers,” which I first read online but had to get in print. And did. It’s a wonderful comparison of J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard that appeared in vol. 3 no. 3. (March 2006).
I’ve got a few of these issues in digital format, and the following print editions:
Volume 1 Number 1, April 2004
Volume 1 Number 2, June 2004
Volume 2 Number 2, April 2005
Volume 3 Number 2, February 2006
Volume 3 Number 3, March 2006
Volume 3 Number 12, December 2006 (yeah for a time The Cimmerian was being published monthly)
Volume 5 Number 1, February 2008
Volume 5 Number 2, April 2008
Volume 5 Number 3, June 2008
Volume 5 Number 4, August 2008
Volume 5 Number 6, December 2008
This glorious golden age with The Cimmerian was cut lamentably short. Steve passed away March 23, 2009
, far too young, and the world lost an utterly unique, irreplaceable voice. Steve took a backseat to no one as an essayist and walking encyclopedia of the fantastic. I think he was a genius. Deuce Richardson stepped in admirably as managing editor and our work continued, but Grin shut down the operation for good on June 11, 2010. A subsequent crappy controversy and fallout with many former authors resulted in many posts coming down, and a splintering of its archive.
Along with the end of the website came the end of the journal, in spectacular and melodramatic fashion. Grin declared that all the back issues were going up for sale, and any remaining copies would be burned like the pagan kings of old. I never saw pictures of said burning, but am told it occurred and that there were witnesses. Grin said he wanted to honor the investment of those that bought the journal and not have their collectibles and commitment diminish in value with hundreds of remaindered copies flooding the market. Every issue of The Cimmerian was individually numbered with ink, BTW. Pretty awesome.
On the one hand I respect this decision, on the other the gesture was a little too Viking, even for my Old Norse tastes. At the time I did not have the financial wherewithal to purchase all the back issues of The Cimmerian, so I bought what I could afford based on TOCs that most interested me.
I cried out, once, when the proverbial torch was lit, and the journal pushed flaming out to sea. I believe they are still accessible in the archives of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, the Ray and Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
I keep meaning to go back and repost all my old Cimmerian essays in full on the blog, and one day may still. But my voice sounded different back then, and moreover I can’t get into that same headspace. I was a different man, the world was different, and I feel they’re someone else’s words, spoken from far beyond. Or perhaps it’s because I was part of a special crew committed to writing about all things sword, sorcery, Robert E. Howard, and J.R.R. Tolkien, a fellowship that has broken up.
Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
It was an amazing time, and one likely never to be repeated.
A monthly print journal? We won’t see that again.