Dark Worlds Quarterly: looking at the past and present of genre entertainment

As I’ve mentioned before, this blog started out primarily focused on writing about Canadian film & TV — despite my having multiple interests, both personal and professional. The reasoning was (according to something I had read) blogs accrue more readers by focusing on a particular topic. But the fallacy with that, as I see it, is a lot of people reading my blog probably do so just because they were Googling something and a post of mine came up as relevant. And so if they want to read more about that particular topic, well, that’s why there’s a handy category menu to the right, as well as at the bottom of each post.

So in recent months I’ve expanded to writing about various things, including fantasy & SF, comics, and my own fiction writings.

And today I want to draw attention to a new on-line e-zine (available as a free PDF) called Dark Worlds Quarterly. Dark Worlds Quarterly is a non-fiction website/e-zine about fantasy and science fiction — yes, all of it. That’s kind of what makes it fun — it’s a grab bag gathering everything under its umbrella (if you’ll excuse the mixing of metaphors). So in the inaugural issue there’s an interview with comic book writer Don F. Glut (best identified with comics from the 1960s and 1970s), and a two-handed review of the recent Hollywood blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2 (it’s literally two reviews laid side by side of each other allowing for two perspectives in a kind of print version of movie critics TV shows dating back to Siskel & Ebert); there’re pieces exploring the works of Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague DeCamp and a piece ruminating on TV’s Doctor Who. And there’s a bit of multinationalism, too. The ezine is Canadian, so there’s a piece asking if there’s such a thing as “Canadian” SF, and another about a French comic, in addition to the more typical American/U.K. material.

It’s not unique to cast such a wide net, but I do think a lot of genre-focused magazines and webzines tend to be a little more narrow in their subject (much as it was suggested blogs should stay focused). So in that sense Dark Worlds Quarterly reminds me of what I used to enjoy about the old (but not forgotten) Starlog magazine — or at least certain eras of it (I’m specifically thinking of the 1990s/2000s) when it would put features about a sci-fi TV series next to pieces about a new comic book, splashy articles about up-coming movies with affectionate retrospectives interviewing some semi-retired genre actor from years gone by. In a way, the appeal of such concoctions is not that you’d be interested in every item, but that once you’d read the items you were interested in, you’d find yourself turning to the less exciting pieces…and sometimes find that was the true gem in the issue!

Not that Dark Worlds Quarterly is trying to be some sort of media magazine. In a way, it’s not unlike blog posts collected in a single issue. The e-zine seems to be basically the product of genre fiction writer, G.W. Thomas, and genre artist, M.J. Jackson (who also provides the appropriately pulp-style covers), who between them contribute most of the articles (with one or two exceptions). And a lot of the pieces (with the exception of things like the Don F. Glut interview) are essentially editorials and opinion pieces…but by two guys who clearly know the field, so they blend opinionated with informative. There’s an element of Grumpy Old Man Syndrome (or grumpy middle-aged man) in that there’s some waxing nostalgically about the past (but since I’m a grumpy middle-aged man, I mostly get where they’re coming from) but, surprisingly, married with a recognition that not everything was rosy in the good ol’ days, acknowledging problematic sexism and the like of old pulps and comics. Which, again, fits with my belief that you can supprt something and still acknowledge its flaws (or equally dislike something but still recognize its good points). I mean, that’s basically been the entire philosophy of my Canadian film/TV writing (though I suspect it’s also why I’ve acquired few friends or supporters within that industry).

And, of course, the history is part of the point, I think: Thomas and Jackson aren’t Johnny-Come-Latelies to the genre who think Cthulhu originated in a video game or that George Pérez created Wonder Woman — they know the roots, the provenance. Dark Worlds Quarterly is fun for old timers who already know what Thomas and Jackson are writing about, but equally fun for younger readers who enjoy learning about that stuff (just as I remember enjoying Starlog and similar mags for how they would pull back a curtain on things from before my time).

But, as I say, they aren’t living in the past, many of the pieces tying into trendy films and franchises, if only by exploring the roots of the property (in addition to Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Who, the inaugural issue has pieces tying into recent major motion pictures with essays on the history of Wonder Woman and the French SF comic Valerian — although the essay was completed before the recent film version, so it only mentions a film is coming).

The research is mostly, I assume, common reference sources and, I suspect, prodigious memories. As such, sure, depending on how well you know the topics they might not offer anything too surprising — but again I get back to the variety of subjects, so you probably won’t know it all. Having just recently read Les Daniels’ Wonder Woman: The Complete History (2000) their piece on the rather kinky origins of Wonder Woman didn’t feature much that I didn’t know, but other articles explored topics less familiar to me — like a piece about an aborted attempt in the 1950s to try and turn Tarzan into a shared author franchise ala Conan.

As mentioned, the pieces are mostly part objective article and part opinionated essay, so you may or may not always agree with their points. But you can be informed by the facts, and then chew over the opinions. And even then, they tend to look things over from multiple sides — even sometimes contradictorily so (like a piece about sexploitation in old pulp magazine covers that both affects a modern, Feminist scepticism of it all, even as it is, well, an entire article devoted to lascivious magazine covers — a paradox Jackson himself freely, and good-naturedly, acknowledges). The pieces are just well written, too (and I say that as someone who, though I’ve been writing non-fiction pop culture pierces for years, still struggles to get the words to come out right — as, no doubt, this post is an example!)

I don’t know what the future holds for Dark Worlds Quarterly (though certainly a second issue is already being promoted). Whether they are hoping to turn it into some sort of self-supporting enterprise or whether (given it’s a free download with the only ads being for some of their own works) it’s mostly just done for the love and for the fun, but the first issue was certainly an enjoyable little read.

One disclaimer I should add is that I’m pretty sure Thomas and I, writing in similar genres, have on occasion shared a table of contents. And Thomas actually interviewed me for his own blog — that was how I discovered Dark Worlds Quarterly. This isn’t a tit-for-tat essay though. That interview with me is already on-line and I didn’t mention to Thomas that I was thinking of writing this before hand (though I’ll probably send him a courtesy link).

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