Interview: Razörfist Speaks With Us On His Upcoming Novel, Pulp Cover Art, And The Possibility Of A Genre Revival
Razörfist spoke with us about his upcoming book, Death Mask, as well as pulp's past, its revival, and the beauty of classic genre cover art.
Today, Bounding Into Comics is fortunate enough to be bringing you a few words from the Rageaholic himself, Razorfist.
He made time to speak with us about his upcoming book Death Mask, a pulp fiction adventure very much in line with the classics of the genre, as well as his opinions on the genre’s past, its new revival, and the beauty of the classic pulp cover art.
DARK HERALD: Razorfist, you are launching a new book in your Nightvale series titled Death Mask, could you tell us a little about it?
RAZÖRFIST: “The entire Nightvale series follows the adventures and travails of an independent thief with the rather odd eponym of ‘Xerdes’, trying to survive and scratch a living in a dark fantasy world.”
“He’s based mostly out of the former capital of Vale, Menuvia, but if you read [my previous book] ‘The Long Moonlight’, you know he’d probably prefer to be anywhere else right now.
So he flees to the neighboring nation of Nazgan – convenient, as they are essentially engaged in a Cold War with Vale at present.
No one from Vale is likely to cross the border to find him, and better still, thievery, assassination and all over forms of perfidy are legal and regulated in Nazgan.”
“The setup is classic Noir stuff: Xerdes is engaged to find a poor innkeeper’s wife and bring her back. She may have been kidnapped… but more likely she ran off. He takes it, for too little pay, partly because he needs to keep his head down… and partly because he’s developing this nasty thing called a conscience.
But there’s a catch: The innkeeper wasn’t always an innkeeper. He is a divested noble and her destination, if she has one, is likely his abandoned mansion, which over years of decay and rumor has come to be called Nat’In. The Dead Citadel.
Light on coin, the tavernkeep offers the contents of his vault as payment. If Xerdes can survive to collect it.”
DARK HERALD: Your Nightvale series appears to be strongly inspired by pulp era adventure stories. Pulp fiction was fairly common through the 1980s, but then interest started to taper off over the next twenty years. Why do you think that happened?
RAZÖRFIST: “Logistically speaking, what killed the pulps were the wood rationing and shortages of the mid-’40s.”
“The Shadow, the most popular of the ‘hero’ pulps for a long while, dropped to a shorter digest format and even cut Walter Gibson’s pay to keep the lights on. He would ultimately quit Street & Smith over it. Most pulp publishers were already dead after World War 2 and just didn’t realize it until the bills came due all at once over the next decade.
In the ’50s, those old yellow paperbacks (for a time, distributed via vending machine) seemed to replace Pulp as Television and Comics came to the fore. Ultimately, those got thicker and more pretentious until they became the ‘elevated’ gas station literature you see today”
“With thirty different titles ‘written’ by James Patterson, none of which he was ever even dimly aware of. They did sort of morph into the ‘genre fiction’ you’re alluding to throughout the ’80s. And in a weird way, they live on through Star Trek and Star Wars books, Battletech and so on.
These publishing houses are essentially printing pulp. It’s just a bit more bloated and seems to have aspirations to be more than it is. Sorry to say, it isn’t and never will be. Which is exactly the way I like it.”
DARK HERALD: I’ve recently run into a few other authors like you and Sky Hernstrom that have written new Robert Howard style high adventures. Do you think there is pulp revival underway? Also, who else do you know of who is working in contemporary Pulp?
RAZÖRFIST: “Yeah, I’ve read some of Sky’s stuff in Cirsova and enjoyed it. The first ‘New Pulp’ writer I was aware of was Barry Reese, who does a Shadow-esque vigilante series featuring characters like ‘The Peregrine’ and ‘Lazarus Grey’.”
“I think a Pulp Revival is inevitable. Whether it happens now or decades hence. Attention spans have fallen. Smart devices are tucked away in every pocket. Short fiction and bite-sized stories seem the way to go.
Yet, the ‘Phonebook Fantasy’ writers seem to have a minimum page count of 500 and fill the majority of it with worldbuilding bloat. And despite the name, it isn’t all that novel, either. None of them are doing anything terribly interesting to justify it.
Writing straightforward Fantasy is fine – I love it to death – It’s the pretense that it’s anything more that I can’t abide. And the smug superiority as they look down their nose at shorter, more plot-driven fiction.”
DARK HERALD: Let’s say you run into a young person who is Appendix N curious. What three books would you recommend to him and why?
RAZÖRFIST: Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock, Swords And Deviltry by Fritz Leiber, and The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard.
“Solomon Kane because it arguably illustrates the development of two genres concurrently: Sword & Sorcery and the ‘Hero Pulps’ that popped up a year or two later, with the creation of ‘The Shadow’.
Fritz Leiber, because in my eyes, his prose is second to none. Even Howard. He was a contemporary of Howard’s, and by my reckoning, even more important to the establishment of ‘Sword & Sorcery’ as a going concern (he even named it).
And Michael Moorcock because he showed how those genres could be carried forward into the modern day. The Elric stories were written in the ’60s and they are still vibrant during every reading. There’s a new book coming soon, in fact.”
DARK HERALD: Let’s talk about Conan for a minute. Robert Howard probably ended up with more co-writers than anyone except Robert Patterson, and a lot of their work influences the general public perception of Conan. Of Howard’s co-author’s who do you think really ‘got’ the character and who missed him by a mile?
RAZÖRFIST: “Coming more from the comic book world, I would say Roy Thomas did them justice. Deviating enough to pad out the story and keep it interesting, but rarely straying so far that it loses its essential character.
As for worst? Ramsey Campbell “finishing” Death’s Black Riders, The Hawk of Basti and Children of Asshur by Robert E. Howard was not my personal favorite.”
DARK HERALD: You are on the record as saying that Conan, at least when the series was written by Robert Howard, has a lot of subtext to it. Could you give us some examples?
RAZÖRFIST: I would say each of Howard’s creations have their own underlying subtext. And like all great subtext, it’s kept fairly simple: Solomon Kane is about vengeance, morality and justice. Classic superhero stuff.
Conan, meanwhile, is about unfettered freedom. With all the dizzying heights and subterranean depths that entails. When he has a great victory? It is his freedom of spirit that facilitates it. When Conan suffers a loss? His freedom, too, undergirds it.
DARK HERALD: Cover art is inextricably tied to the pulp genre. When you look at it, you know what the book is going to be like. Do you have any favorite artists from the era and what was it about their work that impressed you?
RAZÖRFIST: My favorite pulp covers are likely not even from the Fantasy genre. I love the Shadow covers of Graves Gladney, for example, and detective stories are in much heavier rotation in my reading list than Sword & Sorcery. But of the Fantasy guys, Jeffrey Jones’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser covers are incredible.
I was never a big Frazetta guy, but I get why everyone likes him. There was something more expressionistic and elegant about Jones’s work. When I thumbnailed out the original sketch of the cover and gave it to the cover artist, I sent along examples of those Jeffrey Jones covers to give an idea of what I was going for.
DARK HERALD: The cover art for Death Mask is gorgeous by the way, who was your cover artist and what was the development process?
RAZÖRFIST: We worked once again with ‘Dominus’, an artist based out of Sweden who did an incredible job on the first book, ‘The Long Moonlight’, and in my humble opinion, outdid himself on this book.
The series has been an experiment in combining my favorite pulp genres—sword & sorcery, and noir crime fiction—since the beginning, and if the first erred more toward the ‘Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammett’ side… this one tends more toward the ‘Robert E. Howard/Fritz Leiber’ side.
Sword & Sorcery with a capital ‘S’, but with the hard-boiled dialogue and atmosphere ubiquitous throughout. So when I explained that we were going more ’60s/’70s Pulp Paperback than ’40s Noir, he got it immediately. And absolutely nailed it.
DARK HERALD: Where do you see your Nightvale series heading from here?
RAZÖRFIST: Walter B. Gibson said of writing the Shadow stories that he had a file of different ‘types’ of stories. One would be a Murder Mystery, one a Supervillain tale, one a globetrotting adventure, another a gangster story, etc. And he would rotate through them, to keep the variety going so no one ever got bored.
Given that The Shadow Magazine ran for 20 years and over 300 issues, and is still being ripped off with some regularity today, I’d say that worked out. I follow that model. Each story is different. The first ‘Fantasy Noir’ story… was a bit more of a Crime Story. This second one is a bit more Fantasy. The next, which I’m writing now, is more Noir/Serial Killer mystery.
I have an idea for the next one after that, which shapes up a bit more like a ‘Fantasy Horror’. There’s a lot of variety, it’s just a matter of knowing when to cycle one style out for another, while keeping the hard-boiled swagger and atmospherics on point.
DARK HERALD: What are your preferred pronouns?
RAZÖRFIST: I only have preferred Adverbs. Vengefully/Vindictively.
For those interested in checking out more Razörfist’s reviews and rants, they can be found over on his YouTube channel, The Rageaholic. He also hosts a podcast, aptly titled The Shadowcast, where he talks all things pulp.
Written by Razörfist and illustrated by George Alexopoulos, whom many may know by his Twitter handle @Gprime85, Death Mask is currently available for preorder directly from the publisher, Nightvale Novels.
He also asked us to add that the audiobook version will also feature an official soundtrack by a professional Dungeon Synth artist called ‘Elffor’, whose music can be found at their official Bandcap.
What do you make of Razörfist’s take on the pulp genre? Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments down below!