Today, January 19th, is the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, whose influence on my own work is tremendous, and he is the spiritual granddaddy of all of the other authors whose work I admire most. I was first introduced to Poe by my mother sometime around 1980-81. I had always been interested in the macabre, and one day as I was ordering chapter-books from a Scholastic catalog, my mother recommended I select a little book called “The Best of Poe”. The book was part of a series by Pendulum Press which was a bit of a knock off of the Classics Illustrated comic books, conspicuously titled “Illustrated Classics”, which took classic novels and adapted them into comic books for educational purposes. I got several titles, including Dracula, and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, all of which I enjoyed, but the Poe book had a profound impact on me. I loved that book! The stories it contained were simplified versions of “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Cask of Amontillado”, and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, adapted by Naunerle Farr and illustrated by Gerry Talaoc.
Soon after, however, I was introduced to the original stories in one of the myriad reprints of the 1922 edition of “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”, which featured the sublime illustrations of Irish artist, Harry Clarke, and I never looked back.
Even so, certain images stuck with me. When I began trying my hand at watercolor painting in the 1990’s I did a rendition of the scene from “…Usher” when Madeline rises from her tomb. Looking back at the comic now, I see a slight resemblance to the same scene as depicted by Talaoc, at least in the stance and attitude of the revenant lady. Unfortunately, my parents, to whom I had given the painting, seem to have misplaced it, so I cannot show you all what I mean.
Another image which stuck with me and which I used to find an online copy of the chapter-book I once had, was the image of the narrator of “The Pit and the Pendulum” being rescued by General Lasalle as he teeters on the brink of the pit.
The rest, as they say, is history. In recent years I have tried to remember what the title of the chapter-book was so I could give it proper credit for introducing me to my literary mentor, but it wasn’t until just a few days ago that I finally found it. I must give credit, where credit is due, so I am putting out a thank you to Professor H’s Wayback Machine, which contains a plethora of scanned comic book adaptations of Poe’s work. To see the post containing “The Best of Poe”, follow this link: http://professorhswaybackmachine.blogspot.com/2015/05/poe-1977-pt-6.html
Poe’s short stories and poetry are the model for everything that I do. I know that I will never attain his level of artistic greatness, because I lack his basic genius, but I share his longing for love and his melancholy aesthetic of charnel house romance. By his example, I write the most beautiful words I can find to describe the most horrible things in life.
The next fortuitous recommendation was by my old high school chum, Gilbert Weatherbee. One day, as we strolled down the sunny sidewalks on a busy street in Mexico City, ol’ Gilbert grew weary of my chatter about how much I loved Poe, and he burst out with “Have you ever heard of H.P. Lovecraft?” I replied in the negative and he explained that he was sort of like Poe. I made a mental note of what he’d said, and when I got back to the States I picked up a copy of “The Tomb and Other Tales”. The artwork by Michael Whelan caught my eye, but the stories inside were unlike anything I had read before, even Poe. Poe’s influence was evident, but this was a whole other can of tentacles. I was intrigued by Lovecraft’s use of conceptual continuity, the Gothic Horror element, which was less romantic than Poe and more horrific to boot; the references to Old New England Witchcraft, his impossible monsters and his black books and his pantheon of terrible deities all sparked my imagination.
In the years to come, I would develop a style of my own which combined many of the elements I found in these respective mentors, along with my early interest in fairy tales and fantasy, which would find expression in my poetry, short stories and fairy tales. I do not claim to be an heir apparent or successor of these geniuses, but I acknowledge that without them, there would most likely not be a me–at least not as I am today.