Michael Tierney opened his first comic book store, Collector's Edition, in 1982 and relocated it into a remodeled McDonald's in North Little Rock in 1992. Mike is an authority on comic trends and values and has been recognized in the industry multiple times. But Mike is far from being a simple retailer. He reads; he collects; he writes. You might say, "Sure, I do, too." But those are only a couple of the hats Mike wears. As an Alderman, Mike has been a crusader for justice and a force for change in his city, and sometimes-illustrator and publisher of his series of comics and novels, The Wild Stars. It would take a swift, six-man Barsoomian flyer full of two-headed aliens to wear as many hats as Mike Tierney, and would keep a mad, Kaldane hatter in business to do so.
Mike, it's been a couple years since I first met you in Cold Water, Michigan at the 2017 Dum Dum, where you unveiled to the world your promotional copies of The Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology. What's it like to work on a set of groundbreaking books like the Art Chronology, knowing that these editions will themselves go on, long after you and I take that long journey down the River Iss, to be sought after by future collectors of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs?
Like so many other ERB fans, I discovered his books while still in grade school. My hometown in Kansas had a number of wrapper-less A. C. McClurg first editions sitting on their shelves, which were filled with all the J. Allen St. John illustrations that were dropped from the reprints. After those ran out, there was no source of reference to tell me what other works of Burroughs were still out there to be discovered. The librarians let me have access to their volumes of Books In Print, which listed every book publication year by year, and I went through and made my own list of all his releases, including reprints. Much of the information I gathered made it into the Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology, which is the reference book I was wishing for at that time. Restoring the 5000 images and gathering the books represented in the Chronology's 1200 pages was a labor of love. It's great to be able to share the adventure I had discovering the fantastic worlds created by ERB, and to share the visualizations of these worlds created by many talented artists. Just looking through the pages of the Chronology not only reminds you of ERB's stories, but also of yourself whenever you first encountered them. You might consider the Chronology to be a functional time machine!
It's been just over a year since the release of The Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology. I know you spent three years on this project--in research, in photographing the artwork that's adorned a hundred years of Burroughs novels and comics, in writing and proofing and processing and touching up the literally thousands of photos that make up this four-volume set. Given the scope of this venture, what can you share of the experience of undertaking such a project?
I have to admit that this was an all-encompassing effort that occupied every free minute for the better part of three years. Fortunately, I'd actually already started on it years before, when I made a restored set of dust wrappers for my personal ERB library. As any collector knows, those early wrappers are rare in any kind of condition and I didn't want exposure to light and the elements to deteriorate them any further. Once I had verbal permission to create the Chronology from Jim Sullos, the President of ERB, Inc., I didn't wait for a contract to start working. I'd had an offer before I even contacted Jim, but it wasn't for the Chronology as I'd envisioned it, so we decided to explore our options.
We were still entertaining offers a year later when I finished researching and writing all four volumes. It was a big gamble to do on spec, but it paid off when the option for simultaneous publication eventually landed us the offer from Chenault & Gray, who said they'd publish it exactly the way I handed it to them. The first six months of the second year were spent on the couple hundred images in Volume One: The Pulps. These were the most time consuming because the images were all so old. Many repairs were at the single pixel level and I invested as much as 40 hours of work on many images, sometimes working until 4AM and other times getting up at 4AM; but it was fun at the same time--breathing life back into an awesome collection of wonderful artwork--so much of it rarely seen.
Volume Two, dealing with all the books in both the US and the UK, went a lot faster because of that head start with the dust wrappers. And even though there were thousands and thousands of comics, I'd been buying them since I was young, so I had a collection in very nice condition. Owning and operating a pair of comic book stores over the last four decades helped. Once we signed the contract, the publisher was in a hurry for delivery in just a few months, and I still had over 4,000 images to process. Because I was making high-grade scans that took ten minutes each, I was scanning when I got up in the morning, while I fixed and ate breakfast, as soon as I got home and until I went to bed. My only breaks were to color and contrast adjust and crop the images. Didn't get a full night's sleep the whole time, but was nice having a finish line in sight, so I kept grinding and beat the deadline by two days.
With the support of Jim Sullos, I'd resisted the insistence by publishers who felt you couldn't make a book that was a combination history book and art book, which contained multiple narratives and sections of reviews. One publisher only wanted the words. Another wanted the images. Another had previously published earlier versions of my reviews. Another was willing to try the Chronology my way, but only one book at a time, and they still wanted to make a lot of changes. But we held out for the Chenault & Gray offer. If the project bombed, I didn't want it to be because I'd compromised my vision, which meant that a failure would all be on me. When the Chronology was finally released, the reaction of one fan summed it up with; "This is the way books like this SHOULD be done!"
After the set's release, there were a couple of interesting issues that sprang up with the First Print issues--the misspelling of Chronology as Chrononogy (which you stated was discovered by "a sharp-eyed Kickstarter"), the slipcases that were busting in the rear during shipping (mine was busted). Are there any other interesting issues that occurred--those complications that drive up the blood pressure and cloud the mind--that you and Chenault and Gray overcame, that no one knows about?
One thing about doing a project of this scope in a public forum, everyone pretty much already knows all of the trials and tribulations of the physical publication. During the editing process it was interesting because of the need to correct all the long-established errors that had been accepted as facts for decades. Someone got something wrong back in the early Sixties, and it was repeated as gospel ever since. Many times I'd be talking to an editor or proofreader, who would be telling me that I got something wrong, and I'd be on the phone telling them, "I'm holding the actual book in my hands right now." I discovered one UK hardcover edition that ERB, Inc. did not even know existed--because it wasn't authorized. The UK comics were probably the most difficult to complete. Fortunately, there is a very strong international network of wonderful ERB fans, and several of them helped me fill in the missing gaps. Many of the books in the Chronology have never been reproduced before.
As many may know, this misspelling occurred on the spine of the books, with the correction being decided to be addressed by a dust jacket that was only to be supplied on these First Editions, with subsequent editions being corrected. As a collector, do you see this printing mistake dramatically increasing the value of these First Editions, or would you guess the first edition is destined to attain whatever its market value might become in the future regardless of the printing error?
I think the future market value will be the same, regardless of the Chrononogy/Chronology error. Since all of the first edition hardcovers are this way--the leather-bound edition was correct--this will be just one handy way that a future collector will know if he has a second edition or a first edition that lost its wrapper. It's funny, but we had a lot of feedback from fans who wanted us make the error permanent. The word “Chrononogy” is an actual, but rarely used word to describe a list of dates or times. Since the Chronology lists all the dates of ERB's publications, it is in fact a chrononogy.
The Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology isn't the only time you've dipped your toe into the worlds of ERB where you have certainly left a mark on future readers and collectors. Recently, you were given the lottery win of completing a Burroughs Tarzan fragment where you teamed with Cirsova, releasing the ERB, Inc. authorized tale, “Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She”. Mike, I can tell you that, as a writer myself, to contribute to the canon of a favorite author and to see these works published in editions that will be sought long after my atoms have mingled with the cosmic dust, that these are absolutely amazing accomplishments. Not only are they personal accomplishments, but they're each a stellar contribution to the worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs. You've now officially joined the ranks of authors like Fritz Leiber and Mike Resnick who also contributed to ERB's worlds. In your busy day, does the thought ever cross your mind of what you've contributed, and just what a rare and wonderful thing it is that you've done to foster the legacy of the one who created Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars, et al?
Every writer hopes that they might leave behind a footprint in the sands of time--in the form of a work that will be enjoyed by future generations. I've been a writer my entire life, starting when I only knew how to spell the words Stop and Go, and cartooned the rest. I was editor of the school paper in high school and went to the State Finals in Journalism. I've also been steadily employed since the fourth grade, when I was using my paperboy money to purchase books directly from ERB, Inc.
This ultimately led to my friendship with Danton Burroughs in the 1990s. In 2001 and 2002, I started publishing a new set of my Wild Stars comics, and Danton really liked them. That's when he offered me a chance to work on a pastiche called Young Tarzan Ponders, that had been one of the "Discoveries in the Safe" way back in the early Sixties. Several writers had been offered a chance to work with it, but what they considered to be problems with the content--I considered to be opportunities. But at the time Ballantine had all the print rights, so nothing happened with the story before Danton died tragically. Fast forward to the final phases of the Chronology editing process, and I was telling Jim Sullos about a publisher to whom I'd sold several short stories that was very interested in what I'd done with the fragment--and the doorway to publication finally opened for what became “Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She.”
Another opportunity to work in the ERB universe came during those Chronology conversations with Jim Sullos. Local artist John Lucas, who was already a very accomplished artist in the comics industry, had expressed an interest in drawing strips for ERB, Inc. So, I wrote up a few sample scripts for Beyond the Farthest Star and sent them to Jim a couple of hours before our next scheduled meeting. We had another verbal agreement that same day. It took a while to build up a backlog of strips, but Beyond the Farthest Star is now running weekly on the Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. subscription website. I provide the scripts, colors, and lettering. It's a lot of fun to be working with colors again, after all that color work done on the Chronology.
Mike, thanks so much for taking the time out of what I know is a tremendously busy schedule to do this interview. I'd like to share that Mike was shorthanded at his shop when I asked him if he could do an interview, and although he was pulling overtime, he still managed to make the time to take some questions. You have my thanks, my friend.
Thank again, Chris, for being a Kickstarter backer for the Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology! The energetic support of people like yourself is what makes these kinds of dreams into reality.
Part Two of this interview can be found here.
About Chris L Adams
I spent years playing guitar, in and out of bands, and during that time was more of a voracious reader than a writer. After that last band collapsed, I turned to writing, eventually turning out a half million-word Barsoom series as a tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs and a host of self-published short stories and poems. Something inside drives me to create, and so together with writing stories and playing guitar, I also dabble in painting.
You may find me on my website,
www.ChrisLAdamsBizarreTales.com. There, you’ll find any pertinent links, information on available stories, and other things you might find of interest. I love talking about favorite authors, writing and collecting books so if you can't find what you're looking for, shoot me an email.
Sources: Bits of info for this article were sourced from Mike's site, The Wild Stars Home Page. Other sources include the dozens of emails I received as backer #210 for The Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology , and the fascinating conversations I had with Mike Tierney in person at the 2017 Edgar Rice Burroughs Dum Dum convention in Cold Water, MI.