April 15, 2011

Don Glut's Frankenstein

Fuses blow, danger dials go off the scale and The Monster lives again! This dynamic cover by Mark Maddox kicks off the re-release library of Don Glut’s legendary New Adventures of Frankenstein series of action-horror novels from Pulp 2.0 Press.

Don Glut’s voluminous achievements include filmmaking — amateur and professional — as writer, director, actor (and all the filmmaking jobs in between), a stint as singer and songwriter in a rock band, novel and short story writing, movie and TV scriptwriting for live action and animation, comic book writing, expertise in film history, and an amazing parallel career as an internationally known and highly respected expert, writer and lecturer on dinosaurs!

I refer you to Don Glut’s website to marvel at long lists of his astounding credits. I’ll note, as personal preferences, his marvelously entertaining and near definitive history of classic chapterplays, The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury (written with Jim Harmon), and his remarkable research on Frankenstein collected in The Frankenstein Catalog, The Frankenstein Legend, and The Frankenstein Archive: Essays on the Monster, the Myth, the Movies, and More.

Glut wrote The New Adventures of Frankenstein, running ten novels and a short-story collection, early in his career. Part fan fiction, part monster teamup, part robust pulp fiction revival and all Pure Fun, the Frankenstein books were published worldwide in several languages and titles have been periodically reprinted here and there through the years. Now, Pulp 2.0 Press is re-lauching the complete series, in chronological order, packaged in both print and digital versions. Book One, Frankenstein Lives Again, is available now in ebook format.

I asked our mutual friend, Max Cheney, to interview Don Glut and to find out how the Frankenstein fiction series came about and how it evolved since its inception almost forty years ago. It’s a fascinating conversation and, as it turned out, Don had a surprise in store for us. Read on!

Don Glut's Frankenstein: An interview, by Max Cheney

I understand that you wrote these books in one brief burst of creative energy in the late 1960s.

When I first moved out to California, two of my best friends were Ron Haydock and Jim Harmon, and they were cranking out these pulpy, very sexy paperback novels. They would name characters after people they knew, and put in scenes that came from movies they liked. They were having fun AND making money. They'd put in all kinds of in-jokes. Like in one, two burglars wind up in a comic book office after hours, find superhero costumes, and get into a fight as Hawkman and Dr. Fate! It occurred to me I could name characters after friends I knew, and do scenes that were homages to scenes in movies I liked. One of them — Frankenstein in the Lost World — has a giant gorilla, like King Kong. I have Burt Winslow going through a Tarzan-like transformation: He starts out civilized and he's out in a jungle somewhere and all of a sudden he's wearing a loincloth! He gets real bronzed and more muscular as he goes along, because everything he's doing is real physical, and he learns how to hunt, and by the end of the story he has gone through this whole metamorphosis.

I had fun with those books. I put a lot of those ingredients in them that I'd read in other stories and seen in other movies or whatever. What struck me then, what especially inspired me, were the Frankenstein movies. The Universals, the Hammers, and even the bad ones like Frankenstein's Daughter, I loved them all. I was also reading a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs at the time, and there would be a lot of continuity in the stories, and there would be crossovers. Tarzan would go to the Earth's core. I loved that. This is even before Marvel comics went continuity crazy.

There were all of these popular pulp characters — The Spider, The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Phantom — but there'd never been a Frankenstein series in American pulp fiction and it seemed like such a natural. I thought, So why don't I do a series of Frankenstein novels that would be based on the movies and all of these other things? In each one I would bring in some other character from fiction or whatever. I would create this whole Frankenstein universe. I had a great time doing this. In one story would be Mr. Hyde, and the Mummy or Dracula. A Wolf Man. Of course I couldn't use Larry Talbot, but I could call him something else, change his origin, and there would be no copyright problems.

Oh, and the Dick Briefer comics were an influence, too.

You've revised the first book, Frankenstein Lives Again, more than once. 

The original form published in the Seventies came out in Spain, and then it came out in Germany, Holland and England over a few years time. I kept rewriting it because the first version of the novel was the first novel I ever wrote. The first time I wrote something with the intent to sell it was Frankenstein Lives Again. As the years went by, and it kept coming out in different countries and different languages, I kept revising it and tinkering around with it because my writing improved.

The version that's out now was published in 1981 by Donning in Virginia Beach. It had a Ken Kelley cover and I was real happy about that. They were gonna publish the whole series. The editor, Hank Stein, said, “Don, can you put this through the typewriter one more time?” My writing had improved, so I dragged out the old manuscript and rewrote it. I was so glad I did. 

You've said you identified with Victor Frankenstein and not the Monster.

I was being interviewed by the BBC for a documentary on Frankenstein. They asked me “Why do you identify with the Monster?” I started, by rote, going into the cliché answer to that question, which is “Well, we all feel neglected and alienated and awkward growing up.” Then I thought: Wait a minute, hold it there! I didn't identify with the Monster, I didn't want to be the Monster. I wanted to be Victor! Because Victor Frankenstein was a guy who was doing things, who was creating things. My whole life has been creating things. I've been making things, drawing things and putting things together since I was a kid, so that's where my identification went.

Do you identify with Dr. Burt Winslow, the hero of Frankenstein Lives Again?

When I came up with the Burt Winslow character, just like the Dr. Spektor character, those are kind of idealized alter egos of me. Winslow was so ideal, he could do anything. If he needed to fly a plane on the spur of the moment, then suddenly, it's “I can fly a plane!” He had learned how. Or “I can ride a horse”, or shoot a bow and arrow. “In college I was top of my archery team!” He was the best at everything he did, without any question. He had the money to do it, he was a good-looking guy, the girls liked him, he succeeded at what he did. To that extent, he was somebody that I would like to have been. Of course, I wouldn't want to have unleashed a monster on the world and have the guilt of all the horror that led to. Otherwise, I identified with Burt Winslow.

How were the novels received when they came out in their original European printings?

I don't really know. I never got any feedback when they came out in Holland or England or Germany.
I do know that in Spain they were going to do the whole series. They did covers for the first four, but only the first two books came out because that was the time of the Franco regime. They canceled after the second book because there was a lot of censorship. Luis Gasca, the editor there, sent me a copy of the notes indicating what would have to be taken out that, and there was hardly any story left. Even the monster killing someone brutally was considered sadism, and was too over the top for them.

Forry Ackerman was your agent for those novels. How did the overseas sales come about?

When Forry was agenting those novels I was just learning how to write, so they were very crudely written and he was never able to get a sale here in the United States. He did his best. Only the first four came out in English overseas, published in England by the New English Library. I'm so glad very few people have seen those. The novels are very different from the later Donning editions. The plots are the same, but the writing style was really pretty terrible. I'm surprised they actually published them, they were so amateurishly written.

You've cited classic pulps like The Shadow series, old Universal and Hammer monster movies, and Republic film serials as your influences in this series. I detected the influence of B Westerns too-- were they also in your mind as you wrote Frankenstein Lives Again?

One of the novels, The Return of Frankenstein, IS a 'B' Western. And by 'B' Western I don't mean Clint Eastwood's movies. I mean cowboy movies, not 3:10 to Yuma or Red River, not a Randolph Scott movie. Cowboy movies like those starring Buck Jones or Hopalong Cassidy. They usually have the same plot, basically, with the same kind of villain and the same kind of hero. That's what influenced The Return of Frankenstein.

I took a basic standard plot, someone trying to drive people off their land, and worked a lot of the standard archetypal or cliché sequences into the story. All of these plot points I worked into Return of Frankenstein but I disguised them. It has runaway horses and a lynching, but it's set in Germany. There's a barroom brawl where everyone draws Lugers. There's a masked character who's basically a combination of Zorro and the Lone Ranger! Burt Winslow gets locked in a jail cell with a werewolf! At the end, he summons his horse and has it pull off the bars, as B-movie cowboy heroes so often did, and he rides off into the moonrise.

One of the books, Tales of Frankenstein, is a collection of short stories. How did that come about?

We planned to do ten books, a nice round number, and then I started writing short stories that appeared in various places. I decided to compile them into a book that would be the penultimate one. I made sure that the stories would span a great deal of time, and each one would follow in a chronological order, the last one takes place way in the future. The way I look at them they still fit into the continuity of the Frankenstein novels. 

Did any of these stories appear in the foreign editions?

No. Some of them appeared in Famous Monsters and in the short story anthology, Rivals of Frankenstein, edited my Michel Perry. Then Michel did a follow up book called Superheroes. I wrote an original Frankenstein story for that, set in the future, about a Frankenstein android.

Michel Perry was very good friends of Milton Subotsky, who was going to make a Rivals of Frankenstein movie, and it was going to include my story, “Dr. Karnstein's Creation.” Pre-production dragged on for about a year. Michel was going to write the screenplay, and then Subotsky died, so it never happened. It would have been my first screen credit had that movie been made. And that would have been nice. Peter Cushing would likely have been in it somewhere, maybe Christopher Lee, and Michael Gough, too.

When you write, do you do a lot of outlining and revision?

In the Frankenstein books and with any novel I make brief outlines, sometimes on index cards just writing general notes what the scene is. Sometimes I would organize the index cards in an order that made sense for 12 to say, 15 chapters, then I bang out a quick first draft. Sometimes, as with the earlier drafts of the Frankenstein novels, I just jotted down some notes. They were almost happening spontaneously, without detailed outlines.

Same thing with movie scripts. I write a short synopsis maybe, some brief notes, but I never do detailed outlines, except for animated cartoons for television, where you have to turn in a treatment before getting assigned to write the script.

Any Frankenstein novels, other than your own and Mary Shelley's original, that you like?

Not really, except for Brian Aldiss' Frankenstein Unbound. That's a really good piece of literature written by somebody who knew the original novel. A well-thought-out and exciting science fiction novel by somebody who obviously had great affection for the Mary Shelley novel. It was a serious novel, but it wasn't dull, it wasn't pretentious, it wasn't pompous.

I don't like most horror fiction out today. It's meant for a mass market. In my opinion, many modern genre writers are not writing for horror genre readers anymore. Horror novels today are often predictable because they are using genre clichés they don't expect that the average reader will know.

OK, you told me you had a surprise for us. I can't wait to hear it!

Here's an announcement I saved for the readers of Frankensteinia: I'm going to write a twelfth, final Frankenstein novel to end the series with!

It will bring back Burt Winslow, who was not in the eleventh novel, and tie up all the loose ends and establish continuity for every Frankenstein story I've written for books and comics. Like Shelley's novel, it will end with a confrontation between the scientist and the monster.

I'm looking forward to writing it.

Wow! Thanks for the great news, Don, and thank you Max for making this an entertaining interview.

Don Glut's Frankenstein Lives Again is available now as an inexpensive ebook download.

I’ll be sure to post about the next books in The New Adventures of Frankenstein series from Pulp 2.0 Press as they come out. Here, as a teaser, is a first look at book No. 2, The Terror of Frankenstein, with another great cover by Mark Maddox.

Max Cheney is otherwise known as The Drunken Severed Head, and he blogs on the Famous Monsters of Filmland website.


Martin Powell said...

It's like I'm dreaming...

First, Don Glut's entire Frankenstein series is to be reprinted...and now he's writing a brand NEW concluding novel!



Max the drunken severed head said...

From Don Glut, who's unable this himself at this time:

"You may be interested to know that I'm almost finished with writing my new novel FRANKENSTEIN: THE FINAL HORROR, the 12th and last of my old 'New Adventures of Frankenstein' novel series. This entry will finally bring Dr. Burt Winslow and the Monster into their final, one-on-one battle. It will also explain some, I hope, interesting continuity "problems" crossing over with some of the Frankenstein-related comic-book stories I've written over the years. -- Don Glut

Don Glut

Singlem said...

I thought all the Glut Frankenstein novels were going to be rereleased in paperback editions?