The Reliquarians

As editor of the journal Crypt of Cthulhu and of a series of Cthulhu Mythos anthologies, Robert M. Price has been a major figure in H. P. Lovecraft scholarship and fandom for many years. In essays that introduce his anthologies and their individual stories, Price traces the origins of Lovecraft’s entities, motifs, and literary style. Price’s theological background often informs his Mythos criticism, detecting gnostic themes in Lovecraft’s fictional god Azathoth and interpreting “The Shadow over Innsmouth” as depicting a kind of Cargo Cult. His annotated five-volume collection of Lovecraft’s fiction, juvenilia, and revisions awaits publication. In 2015 Price received the Robert Bloch Award for his contributions to Lovecraft scholarship. At the same event he was pretty much excommunicated from the Lovecraftian movement.

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To tell you the truth, I can’t quite recall how I met Steve Fabian in the early 80s, but it must have been connected with my growing stable of Cryptic Publications. He created a number of striking covers for Crypt of Cthulhu, Risque Stories, Pulse-Pounding Adventures, Astro-Adventures, and various collections of hitherto-unpublished stories by Robert E. Howard. I think my favorites were two Crypt covers. One was Tales from the Crypt of Cthulhu, an EC Comics pastiche depicting tentacles breaking through the grave dirt to grab a damsel in distress. Up and down along the left were cameo portraits of the three hosts, the Deep One, the Old One, and the Old Gent! The other cover was a salute to another EC title, Mad Arab Magazine, depicting a puzzled Abdul Alhazred having conjured up a demon who looked suspiciously like Alfred E. Newman!

It was always great fun shooting the breeze with this great artist when I’d pick up the latest cover art. His reminiscences were fascinating. Once he told how his sergeant inspected his locker and expressed disdain at Steve’s stack of science fiction mags: “What’s this trash?” Steve did not roll over and take it; he stoutly defended the value of scientifiction, risking the wrath of his superior. Another time, at some family gathering, Steve’s brother expressed similar disrespect for Steve’s chosen field. Why was he “wasting” his time at it? Steve turned the tables on him. “You’re just like a beast of the field!” That is, his brother was completely captive to the mundane, seeing to material needs with nothing higher in view. But I mustn’t give you the wrong idea about Steve; he was always full of good humor and friendship.

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The conviviality was only magnified every first Sunday afternoon of the month when our small group of pulp enthusiasts would meet around the table at Steve’s house to discuss our favorite topics. Veteran editors Joe Wrzos (pronounced “Ross”) and Sam Moskowitz were always in attendance. Sam, I’m sorry to say, developed throat cancer during this time, finally having his larynx replaced by a mechanical substitute. It was surprising how easy it was to get used to the sound of his new voice, and it was weirdly appropriate, since now Sam was officially a cyborg!

With a nod to the famous SF circle who called themselves the Futurians, Joe christened us “the Reliquarians” for our collective devotion to “days of future past.” (There were tales of our not-quite-namesakes, like the time Lester del Rey silently protested his wife’s dyeing her hair by dyeing his beard green!)

Despite Lovecraft’s advice not to “fawn upon the great,” I took advantage of Sam’s good-nature, asking him to autograph a number of his anthologies. Historian that he was, Sam not only signed them but added to each book a paragraph of fascinating and funny anecdotes about how he came to edit it.

But my most amazing story about Sam was that I came up with a science fiction anthology he had never heard of! It was Roger Ellwood’s collection of religion-oriented SF tales, Flame Tree Planet, issued by Lutheran publishing house Concordia.

Of course, we discussed Lovecraft and Arkham House. Sam insisted that HPL’s stories were all in Public Domain and offered as proof the fact that, despite August Derleth’s warning him not to include a Lovecraft story in Sam’s issues of the revived Weird Tales, Sam did it anyway, and with nary a repercussion. Also during this period, Joe was putting together his magisterial collection of Derleth’s “posthumous collaborations,” In Lovecraft’s Shadow.

Sam left us in 1997. Steve Fabian is, thankfully, still with us, though I regret I have not seen him or Joe in many years. They live in New Jersey, as I used to, but now I lurk in North Carolina.

What an incredible honor for me to rub elbows with such a group of remarkable gents! These afternoons impressed upon me the duty to carry on the grand traditions of fandom. There is much future to imagine but also much precious past to preserve!