An interview with contemporary "Doc Savage" author Will Murray


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Doc Savage: #000A - "the Doc Savage Authors"

archived at http://www.stealthskater.com/DocSavage/DS000_Authors.doc [.pdf]
to read more Doc Savage novels, go to http://www.stealthskater.com/DocSavage.htm
Background and History of the Publishing of "Doc Savage"

last updated December 10, 2010

Introduction

Authors

the Bantam Book paperback series

Bantam Cover Artists

some Doc Savage-related Websites

the history of "Kenneth Robeson" (the "author" of the Doc Savage series)

an interview with contemporary "Doc Savage" author Will Murray

the "Maturing" of the Doc Savage character

a Summary of the 3 Decades of Lester Dent's writings

"Why 'Kenneth Robeson' Doesn't Write Anymore"

the 1975 "Doc Savage" movie

Doc Savage: Arch Enemy of Evil (history and interviews)

Doc's high-adventure Dictionary

List of all Doc Savage Books

Theme & Characters of each adventure
Introduction
Just under 2 years after "The Shadow" appeared on magazine racks, Doc Savage became the 3rd pulp character to get his own magazine.
The World met the 'Man of Bronze' in a novel titled The Man of Bronze (#001), March 1933.
"Doc Savage" was created by Street&Smith’s Henry W. Ralston -- with help from editor John L. Nanovic -- in order to capitalize on the surprise success of "The Shadow" magazine.
It was Lester Dent, though, who crafted the character into the superman that he became.
Dent -- who wrote most of the adventures -- described his hero Clark “Doc” Savage Jr. as a cross between “Sherlock Holmes with his deducting ability, Tarzan of the Apes with his towering physique and muscular ability, Craig Kennedy with his scientific knowledge, and Abraham Lincoln with his Christ-liness.”
Through 181 novels, the fight against Evil was on. From a headquarters on the 86th floor of a towering Manhattan skyscraper, Doc; his 5 pals Renny, Johnny, Long Tom, Ham, and Monk; and occasionally his cousin Patricia battled criminals the World over (and under) 12 times-a-year from 1933 until early 1947. Then the team’s exploits dropped to every 2 months until the final 3 quarterly issues in 1949.
Doc Savage is one of the few characters whose complete original pulp run has been reprinted in book form. Doc also appeared in a short-lived radio drama in the 1940s, a couple of serialized adventures on public radio, and a 1975 movie.


Street&Smith pulp magazines


The "Adventures of Doc Savage" and his associates were originally recorded in the Doc Savage pulp magazines published by Street&Smith.



There were 181 Doc Savage adventures published. Most of these were authored by Lester Dent with several being authored by others. These novels were published over a 17-year period from 1933 to 1949. (Beginning in 1964, Bantam Books reprinted all 181 of the novels along with some new ones.)
All but 2 of the Doc Savage novels were bylined 'Kenneth Robeson'. The very first novel was bylined 'Kenneth Roberts' and the novel published in the March, 1944 issue was bylined Lester Dent.

Authors


Lester Dent (Lester Dent was 'Doc Savage' in many respects!)
Lester Dent was born at his maternal grandparent's home in La Plata, Missouri on October 12, 1904. He was the only child of a farming/ranching couple who lived in Pumpkin Buttes, Wyoming. There he lived until his family gave up the ranch and isolation of Wyoming and moved back to La Plata when he was in the 8th grade. At the age of 19 he entered a business college with the intent of becoming a banker. He heard, however, that telegraphers made more money, so he switched to that. By the Fall of '24, he was finished with his courses and had taken a job with Western Union. In May of 1925, he moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma and began working as telegrapher for Empire Oil and Gas Co. He met Norma Gerling and married her on August 9 of that same year. In 1926, Dent took a job with Associated Press in Chickasha, later moving to Tulsa. There he met a fellow telegrapher who had sold a story to a pulp magazine. Dent figured he could do that as well. It was the beginning of a prolific career.
"Top Notch" magazine was the first magazine to publish a Dent story. "Pirate Cay" appeared in their September 1929 issue. Shortly thereafter, he received a telegram from Dell Publishing offering to pay his way to New York and set up a $500 a month drawing account if he would agree to write only for them. A short time later, he and the missus arrived in the Big Apple. For a while, he worked for Dell. Then as he became more known, he branched out to other publishers.
No mere "armchair adventurer", Dent read voraciously but was also a man of Action. He obtained a First-Class Radio Operator's license and built a powerful Ham radio set. He passed the rigid Electrician and Plumber's exams. He got his pilot's license and became a mountain climber. Soon he received a call from Henry Ralston, an executive at Street&Smith and the creator of "The Shadow". Ralston had an idea for a new series -- "Doc Savage" -- and he wanted Dent to write it.
At the beginning, Dent was paid $500 per story. Later he made $750 per. He often wrote 2 stories a month and supplemented his income by writing other, non-Doc stories as well. During the Depression, he made as much as $18,000 per year. His general method of operation was to begin writing at 9pm and write until 3am. He and his wife had a lifestyle that enabled them to take lavish vacations: In 1933, they cruised the West Indies and South America. In 1938 they toured England and Europe, running afoul of some Nazis in Czechoslovakia.
He purchased a 40-foot, 2-masted schooner called the "Albatross" on which he and his wife lived for several years. They sailed up-and-down the Eastern Seaboard and through the Caribbean. Dent became an expert swimmer, fisherman, and deep-sea diver. When he tired of the boat, he sold it and went to Death Valley to prospect for gold. His explorations in the Southwest earned him a membership in the famed "Explorers Club". Throughout all, his literary production continued unabated.
Finally, he "retired" to La Plata, although this did not affect his literary output. While in La Plata, he became a dairy farmer, a partner in an aerial photography business, a lecturer, and a Boy Scout leader!
"Doc Savage" magazine expired of natural causes in 1949. But Dent continued to write -- mostly mysteries and westerns -- through 1958. In February of 1959 he suffered a heart attack and died on March 11 of that same year.

-- Dale Dodson http://www.mindspring.com/~sheba/savage.html

In the latest Comic Buyers Guide (#1600), Peter David is discussing the controversy around DC Comics Identity Crisis series (SPOILER WARNING) in which the Justice League uses Zatanna's magic to perform brain surgery on a villain to erase his memory and change his criminal behavior. As he has done in the past, David gives credit for the idea where it is due. He writes this:
"Interestingly, the notion of heroes performing brain surgery on their opponents to change their behavior is not unprecedented. Clark Kent took his first name and his arctic "Fortress of Solitude" from Doctor Clark Savage Jr. Well, now something else has been lifted from Doc Savage, as well.
"It's not happenstance that Doc -- with the single exception of the evil John Sunlight -- never had to concern himself about recidivism. Not for Doc Savage were the niceties of the Constitution or trial by jury. No, if his opponents survived their dust-up with him, they would be shipped off to his crime college in upstate New York. There Doc would perform brain surgery to not only removing from the bad guys their memories of their crimes and creating a new personality for each, but also slicing out a section of what he called the "crime gland" in the lower part of the brain stem that was wholly responsible for criminals committing crimes (I swear I'm not making this up). It's staggering when considered in retrospect. If nothing else, had word gotten around then, Brig. Gen. Theodore Marley "Ham" Brooks -- the sartorially splendid lawyer who routinely aided Doc -- would surely have been disbarred."
I should add that Peter David is a Doc fan and has written about Doc before. When writing about the trend in the 1990s of superheroes that killed their opponents, David opined that the reason superheroes had NOT killed before was that Doc Savage didn't kill. And the superhero genre just followed Doc's lead. He also mentioned Monk's offing the occasional villain behind Doc's back. David has written about seeing the Doc motion-picture (starring Ron Ely) in an empty theater, and then years later watching it at a convention with a room full of fans who -- much to his surprise -- cheered wildly at the line "Mona, you're a brick!"
It's nice to see at least one major comic book and paperback writer give credit to Doc when an idea is lifted from him. And it's amazing (and a credit to the mind of Lester Dent) that after 71 years, there are still things in the Doc stories to be ripped off by modern writers.
-- Jim

Visit my Doc Savage Collectibles Showcase

http://members.aol.com/jgouldds/index.html


"I'm a newcomer to the world of Doc. But I have been impressed with Lester Dent's work so far. He was never what you might call a "great" writer. But boy! could he tell a story! And he had a singular wit and vision that gave the series a flavor all its own. When I've finished reading the Doc series, I will have to look into other work this prolific writer created. He was a true original."

-- Andrew Salmon / July 23, 2003 08:30 PM

Harold A. Davis (wrote 13 Doc Savage novels)
"I know absolutely nothing about Harold Davis and what else he might have written. But as a Doc 'ghost', he stands up fairly well. He may even be the best of the Doc Savage 'ghostwriters' (at least when you think of authors like Laurence 'He Could Stop the Entire Series' Donovan). Tales like The Green Death (#069) are solid Doc adventures with all the creepy, exotic ambiance we came to expect."
"When you look at his contributions, we have some substantial ones. Though not the best books, he did write the "sequel" to The Man of Bronze (#001) -- The Golden Peril (#058) -- and introduced Habeas Corpus (Dust of Death #032), for example. He also played with all the characters fairly well and stayed true to the nature of Doc Savage and the series by not getting too outlandish and wild with the mysteries, thus always keeping the solutions grounded in Science and reality. He also wrote one of the best, longest, and most memorable Docs in the value of the test it provided to the character of Doc Savage in The King Maker (#016). This is a classic book and a substantial statement on the nature of Doc Savage and what his goals were in life.
"Furthermore, he did something I always loved to see in Doc Savage tales -- he connected them. He often mentions other exploits in the middle of adventures (especially those he wrote) and creates a real-life flow and chronology in the series that is often absent. His seem to reflect people having real experiences in a real world rather than a bunch of random stand-alone tales that never connect in any way. I like that."
"Is Harold Davis better than Lester Dent? Not even close. But compared to the other 'ghostwriters', he wrote a lot of books that stand up very well on their own, honor the characters, and actually contribute something to the series. What more could we wish from a 'ghostwriter'?"

-- Thomas Fortenberry / August 20, 2003 11:59 PM

Laurence Donovan (alias Norman Danberg) wrote 9 Doc Savage novels)
"Well, I hate to down anyone who ever had the honor of writing a Doc Savage tale, much less several of them. But for my money, Donovan has to be the worst of the Doc ghostwriters. His stories were always the most outlandish, silly, poorly plotted and written of the series. The characters are off, the villains just whack jobs, and the plots usually goofy. He seems to throw out the usually grounded Doc Savage "world" where what appears to 'magic' or 'monsters' or outer-space weirdness is, in fact, just a ploy or some advanced science in action. He seemed to believe Doc Savage should be, in fact, weird/wild/magical and unrealistic in the extreme. Anything goes in his books. Wish it weren't so. But his are the worst of the series."

-- Thomas Fortenberry / August 14, 2003 01:16 PM
"Donovan did contribute a few clunkers, I have to admit. But Cold Death (#043) and The Men Who Smiled No More (#038) are real gems. For my money, Bogart was the worst 'ghost' while -- although producing a few worthwhile Docs -- gave us the 2 worst: The Death Lady (#168) and Death In Little Houses (#164). Of all the contemporary ghosts, I found Donovan to be closest to Dent's, though a little rougher."

-- Jeff / May 3, 2004 12:20 PM
"I'll give Donovan this much. He would always swing for the fences. Whether it was "Murder Melody", "Haunted Ocean", or this "He Could Stop The World", he was never content to leave Doc in New York and pit him against a bunch of boring thugs with a gadget. His stories always put the world in total peril from villains with incredible power, something Dent was seemingly reluctant to do. Yes, yes, Donovan couldn't write a coherent action scene to save his life and his dialogue sounded like a 6th grade composition project. But the guy always set his sights pretty high. After rereading a couple of Dent snoozers like "The Yellow Cloud" and "The Sea Angel", this book was actually a fun little diversion. Yes, it's a train wreck. But it's an entertaining train wreck.

-- Mark Carpenter / June 5, 2005 08:33 AM

Phillip J. Farmer (wrote 1 Doc Savage novel)
"PJF also wrote Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life - a pseudo-biography of Doc in which his family tree is traced to numerous fictional heroes and adventurers."

-- Phil Obermarck / June 16, 2003 01:31 PM
"Farmer has to be the worst of the 'Kenneth Robesons'! He seems to think it's his calling in life to make readers believe that somehow Doc is nothing without him and he must take it upon himself to explain what everything means for us ignorant readers. Escape From Loki (#183) is not a Doc Savage novel, pure and simple. It breaks every rule. Sometimes this is a good thing. But not with Doc.
"The various Robesons all have one common goal: that's to be inseparable from the original Robeson, Lester Dent. It's not up to them to put their personal stamp on the characters or the series. They're supposed to be telling a rip-snorting good story. Period! Farmer has to give us Doc the way he sees him and not the way he actually is. Personally, I have no interest in reading Farmer's interpretation of Doc. I hope we shan't see any more contributions from Mr. Farmer to the Doc canon."

-- Andrew Salmon / July 23, 2003 08:27 PM

Will Murray (wrote 7 Doc Savage novels; he also "announced" another 6 novels)
"I've just started getting into the later Docs. I've read 3 of Murrays and although I find them a little uneven in quality, he does his best (and mostly succeeds) in capturing the Dent voice. And he tries to update the characters slightly. This is a bit distracting but overall is subtly done. Let's hope he will be able to return to writing Doc very soon."

-- Andrew Salmon / July 23, 2003 08:32 PM
William G. Bogart ("ghosted" 14 Doc Savage novels)
Ryerson Johnson (wrote 3 Doc Savage novels)
Alan Hathway (wrote 4 Doc Savage novels)


the Bantam Book paperback series



In 1964, Bantam Books reprinted all of the Doc Savage novels. The images of Doc on the covers were "modernized" by contemporary artists (such as James Bama). The original stories were not altered, however. Following is an index to the novels in the order Bantam published them.
Beginning with Doc edition number 97-98, Bantam began reprinting 2 novels in one volume [D]. Bantam also reissued some earlier reprints in the "doubles" format [D].
Beginning with reprint #127, Bantam began collecting multiple novels in single 'Omnibus' [O] volumes and numbering by volume rather than title.

Bantam Cover Artists



The Bantam Cover Story


"As a cartoonist, illustrator, and advertising art director, the Doc Savage book covers have always had a special meaning to me. I practically learned to draw the human figure at thirteen by copying Doc in all those fantastic, dynamic poses. Later, as a professional graphic designer, I came to realize the Bantam cover designs of the Doc Savage reprints go beyond the excellent choice of James Bama as the first cover artist. The entire design concept surpasses good illustration. It is design that was ahead of its time.
Just look at any other paperback that came out in 1964 such as the Ballantine Tarzans (#23, #24). The illustration is mired in the stylized magazine look of the Sunday supplements. There is type all over the place. The cover is divided into sections (or boxes) which slows down the shopper's eye. One box for title, one for NEW (tilting crazily like a newspaper advertisement), overprint for Authorized edition info, and they have to tell us twice (once in numeric form in the top right and again in text along the author's name) what number the volume is.
Now look at The Man of Bronze (#001) cover. Clean, full bleed, no boxes -- it screams for attention in its simplicity. The delta-sweep-stylized logo perfectly captures the imagination, while remaining legible and almost visceral in its strength and visual appeal. Of course, the work of James Bama was the perfect way to go with presenting Doc to a new generation of fans. Realistic enough to shore up against the camp of the novels, but striking and exotic (and instantly as recognizable as Superman's costume) with the dual element of the torn shirt and the severe widow's peak. Capturing Doc in a variety of tense, action-frozen poses is also a delightful nod to the pulp covers that I have been able to see.
The designers at Bantam do seem to take a few covers to get the look right. The Thousand Headed Man (#017) appears to have Bama backing off of the sharp, skull-cap-look by trying to make the widow's peak more plausible. Meteor Menace (#013) and Polar Treasure (#004) have Doc much too small to be a striking, newsstand presence.
Brand of the Werewolf (#011) is too cartoon-like. It seems that there are suddenly 2 ways to present a Doc cover. Either literal (e.g., The Motion Menace #063) where Doc is in an actual setting. Or symbolic (e.g., The Devil on the Moon #061) where Doc is juxtaposed against a figurative background image that represents the "menace" of the story.
It is also evident that the publishers feel guns sell because Doc wields a firearm on 5 of the first 67 covers (three times in the first 15). The Lost Oasis (#007) has a weird color scheme, with Doc looking like a romantic lead from the 1930s cinema. The Monsters (#014) treats us once again to the delineated realism of that gloriously wrinkled and torn shirt.
Then there is my vote for the worst cover -- The Land of Terror (#002) (although at 13, I was a sucker for dinosaur-lost-world stories back to Burroughs and Doyle). This cover was the one that always had me suspect a 'ghost-painter' in the woodshed. Not until years later (today, in fact), Dale Dodson -- a fellow artist -- brings an article to my attention: a Starlog article about James Bama by Will Murray. My suspicions are correct. According to the story, Bama had to wrap up some "artistic commitments" and evidently couldn't paint all of the above. Dale is virtually certain (and I would agree) that he didn't paint Meteor, Polar, Werewolf (Dale has a copy of Werewolf that is cropped high enough to show another signature), Oasis, and -- thankfully -- Land of Terror.
Dale thinks the signature on Werewolf reads MKunstler for Mort Kunstler. I don't know if this cover painting seems consistent enough with the others to say Kunstler painted the other four. But Land of Terror (#002) and Lost Oasis (#007) seem like the same artist. Look at the brush strokes on the volcanic steam and the machine gun flame.
[Editor's note: According to Vincent diFate, the artist for those 2 novels was Doug Rosa. DiFate could find very little about Rosa. He also thought that Bama wasn't available as he was on his honeymoon.]
At any rate, Bama is back on the 9th cover with The Mystic Mullah (#023) and, of course, The Phantom City (#010) (an obvious favorite with the collectors), the covers reached an excellence that has to stand as a high-water mark in series publishing. Some of the highlights have to be Dust of Death (#033), The Squeaking Goblin (#018), The Giggling Ghosts (#065), and The Men Who Smiled No More (#038) (that has got to be Monk to the left with, I would guess, Ham and Long Tom in the back to the right).
After Bama's artwork disappeared from the covers, Bantam did the smart thing and didn't tinker with the design. The covers slipped a little in illustration quality. The rendering seems fine and the shiny-metallic look works (he is the Man of Bronze, right?). But why does it seem like Doc is turning away or hiding from each menace (literal or symbolic)? And on many of the covers, he is actually running away. See Quest of the Spider (#003), The South Pole Terror (#043), and Murder Mirage (#035) and you'll know what I mean.
After these covers (and a couple years off publishing if memory serves me right), they actually contracted Boris Vallejo to turn out half-a-dozen. I don't feel they got their money's worth. Boris is too brightly pastel and better with big-busted babes.
Bob Larkin did fine for most of the rest of the run but with a shaky consistency. Look at The Time Terror (#119). Aren't Doc's shoes way too big? And yet, The Black, Black Witch (#121) has a nice action flow. Omnibus #5 stands up in detail and tension to most of what Bama produced.
One has to remember the purpose of the cover has always been the same: to make the shopper plunk down 45 cents (or 95 cents, or seven bucks). True, the book has to stand up to this test. But it is still the cover that will first be judged.
Bantam's Doc Savage series is reportedly the first numbered line of action-hero books. This artist and designer maintains that it is also -- after 30 years -- the best looking series ever published.
Special thanks to Jeff Sines and the service he provides storing all those cover scans.
-- Chuck Welch / http://www.docsavage.info/arch/000523.html


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