Wednesday, March 14, 2012

M.R. interviews...Chuck Miller

Please Welcome Chuck Miller to Cutis Anserina

Tell us about your character Black Centipede. 

The Black Centipede was originally conceived as a cross between William S. Burroughs and the Shadow, with a dash of Doc Savage. (Black centipedes are a loathsome centerpiece of Burroughs' novel "Naked Lunch.") Like Doc, he makes his home/headquarters in the top floors of the tallest skyscraper in the city; he is addicted to the use of clever gadgets of his own invention. The Centipede shares Burroughs' enthusiasm for orgone accumulators, the cut-up method, and quoting Shakespeare, as well as a certain unfortunate vice they both have in common with Sherlock Holmes.

He's kind of difficult to sum up in a few words. He took a strange path to become a crime fighter, and he does it for reasons that are not entirely clear even to him.  In the origin sequence, he is a boy of 16. His friendship with H.P. Lovecraft and a strange encounter with Lizzie Borden make him aware of what he calls a "Dark Power" operating beneath the visible surface of the world. He becomes a crime fighter almost by accident. He is a pretty ruthless individual, and he is not at all deep or introspective. He does what he does joyfully, and sort of revels in the violence. He suffers from absolute self-assurance, which can be a very dangerous thing. I do plan to have his character evolve as the series progresses, and we will see the beginning of this in the second book.

He was originally intended as a marginal character in a comic book I wanted to do some 20 years ago. That never got off the ground, but the Centipede and a few other characters wouldn't quit loitering around in my head. I did a short novel a couple years ago based on that comic book idea, but it didn't turn out to be very good at all. So I decided to do some short stories featuring some of the peripheral characters. The first one of these was a Black Centipede tale called "Wisconsin Death Trip." It's set in 1957 and deals with the Centipede's involvement in the curious case of Ed Gein. It was fun to write, and I have maintained the practice of having several "real life" characters appear in almost all the Centipede stories. The first novel features H.P. Lovecraft, Lizzie Borden, Frank Nitti and William Randolph Hearst. The second book, "Blood of the Centipede," which I just finished, includes Amelia Earhart, Aleister Crowley, Fatty Arbuckle and Bela Lugosi.

In the Centipede's fictional world, he is not only a real-life crime fighter, he is the star of a monthly pulp adventure magazine that presents highly-sanitized accounts of his adventures. This has arisen from a deal he worked out with Hearst. The public perception is that the Black Centipede is a heroic paragon of virtue, while the truth is a little less rosy.

Creeping Dawn: The Rise of the Black Centipede is your first release starring the Black Centipede.  Does this series have an established end point or are you taking it book by book?

I don't have any real end in mind. The first book is set in 1933. The Black Centipede is still alive and active in 2012, and he's in remarkably good shape for a 101-year-old. I'm concentrating on his early career right now, but I have a very loose timeline worked out up through about 1970. I wrote a novella set in the 50s, which is a tribute to the old EC horror comics, and guest stars Doctor Fredric Wertham and EC publisher William M. Gaines. I don't know when that one will see the light of day, but it's a favorite of mine.The interesting twist is that Dr. Wertham is an enthusiastic supporter and fan of horror comics, while Gaines is hell-bent on destroying the industry. And we find out why that is in a story that also features the notorious murderer Albert Fish, who was examined by Wertham at one time. Lots of dead people coming back to life and wreaking ironic revenge.

How do you define the, “New Pulp Movement.”  What do you feel separates pulp from neo pulp?

Well, it is certainly on a much smaller scale, and caters to a fairly specialized audience. In the original heyday of pulp, the 20s through the 40s, the magazines were very popular and widely read. For the creators then, I suppose, it was more of a business than an artistic endeavor. Writers like Lester Dent (Doc Savage) and Walter Gibson (The Shadow) were cranking out more than a novel a month. Obviously, today, the audience for these stories is much more specialized. It is a much smaller part of popular culture than it once was. The people who are into it are not just casual fans, they are people who grew up reading pulp, if not during its heyday in the 30s and 40s, by way of the paperback reprints that were very popular in the 60s and 70s.

The New Pulp, then, is derived from the old, but I think it takes a more reverent attitude toward the characters, who are now beloved icons rather than cheap entertainment. The storytelling is, on the whole, more sophisticated. The people doing it today are not doing it for a living in the same way the writers of the 30s were. Then, it was all about the volume of material produced. Now, more care is taken. It is done by and for people who see pulp as an important cultural treasure rather than a cheap mass commodity.

Do you feel the old pulps slowly faded away or were replaced by something else?

A little of both. Like the superhero comic books that were their heir apparent, the heroic pulps kind of petered out after World War II, and were gradually replaced by a number of different things. I think television played a part in the decline of the pulp magazines as cheap mass entertainment. The pulps' direct successors, comic books, have had their ups and downs. They have survived, but their mass appeal has dwindled. Superheroes are very popular in the movies right now, but the comics themselves have nowhere near the audience they once had.

Also, while the heroic pulps were in decline in the 40s, the science fiction pulps hung on and evolved. And one of the main publishers of the sci-fi pulps, Ray Palmer, got in on the ground floor of the "flying saucer" craze in 1947, and started Fate Magazine, devoted to "true" tales of the paranormal. This was a genre that really took off. It was as though a lot of readers and publishers were turing from subjects that were unequivocally fictional to fantastic things that just might possibly be true.

Who was the most influential classic pulp author to you personally?  Why?

That would probably be Walter Gibson, who wrote most of the Shadow pulps under the name Maxwell Grant. That's mainly because of the influence he had on writers that influenced me. The Shadow was a direct inspiration for Batman. Lester Dent, the main writer on Doc Savage, was also very influential. You can find echoes of Doc Savage in most of the early superhero books. Superman in particular. The two characters are very different on the surface, but the inspiration is very obvious. They both have the same first name, Clark; similar nicknames-- Man of Bronze/Man of Steel; the Fortress of Solitude was lifted from Doc.

Strictly for me personally, it would probably be Lovecraft, though.

Who do you feel are some of the strongest neo pulp authors today?

There are quite a few good ones. I can't possibly mention all the good work that's going on, but there are a few that stand out for me.

Barry Reese is doing some great work. He has two characters, the Rook and Lazarus Gray, that hark back to hero pulps like the Shadow and the Avenger. The Rook stories in particular have strong supernatural elements that were absent from most of the popular pulp hero stories of the past. But he blends these things very well. And, in a way, it is very traditional, since there were lots of horror pulps in the 30s and on up. That was H.P. Lovecraft's element. I believe there are very few people working in New Pulp today who would not list Lovecraft as a significant influence. Tommy Hancock at Pro Se has started a multi-generational hero saga which is very intriguing. This story ties the pulp-era heroes in with the later comic book era superheroes. The first volume is called "Yesteryear." I believe he intends to make it into a trilogy. Derrick Ferguson is also very good, and he's done quite a few things. He has two main characters he writes about: Fortune McCall and Dillon. Those two are very popular. Don Gates is a relative newcomer. His first novel, "Challenger Storm: The Isle of Blood" came out just a few months ago, and it's a good one. Other writers I would recommend include Sean Taylor, Nancy Hansen, Van Plexico, and many, many more.

A good place to learn about all of this would be the All Pulp blog:

Who would you recommend take a chance and try neo pulp?  What would be a good starting place for them?

Well, I think the best starting place would be "Creeping Dawn." That's just my own personal view. But seriously, there is a lot of stuff out there, a wide variety of subjects and styles. I think there's something for just about anybody. I would suggest going online and taking a look at the Pro Se Productions site. Airship 27 Productions is another company that's doing a lot of good things. There are enough samples and excerpts available for a potential reader to find something appealing.

What does the term ‘hardboiled’ mean to you?

I've never been entirely sure what was meant by that. I guess it's a lot more gritty and harrowing than over easy or sunny side up. Most of my stuff is scrambled, with bits of shell left in it.

Do you have anything coming down the pipeline you would like to share?

I have a few things coming up. I'm doing several stories for the Pulp Obscura line. This is a really cool project Pro Se Press is doing with Altus Press. For some time, Altus has been reprinting stories about a number of old, obscure pulp heroes from the 20s up through the 40s, all of which are now in the public domain. Pulp Obscura is a new line featuring new stories by contemporary writers starring these heroes. This will involve a couple dozen writers. The first volume, "The New Adventures of Richard Knight," is already out. The first one of mine is an Armless O'Neil story, which I just finished. That will be out in a couple of months. The next one of those I'm working on is the Griffon.

I also have something coming out from Pacific Noir Press, the first in what might become a series, "The Bay Phantom Chronicles." The second Black Centipede novel is done and will be out later this year. 


  1. Thanks! I forgot to include my blog address:

  2. Cool interview, Chuck.


  3. Thanks for the shout-out, Chuck. Much appreciated.