The House That Leo Built

The Cimmerian Blog Calls It Quits

Over at the TC blog Deuce Richardson has announced that they are closing up shop. Love it or hate it, the passing of the Cimmerian blog marks the end of an era.

Anyone doing the history of Robert E. Howard fandom in the new millennium will have to start with Leo Grin. The first few years of the 2000s saw the expansion of Wandering Star’s publishing program into the Del Rey trade paperbacks and the birth of Wildside Press’ Robert E. Howard series, but on the fandom frontline these years were pretty much business as usual. Other than the triumphant return of Damon Sasser’s REH: Two-Gun Raconteur in 2003 (its previous issue had been published in 1977), REH fans had the same things to look forward to as usual: maybe an issue of The Dark Man would come out, maybe Dennis McHaney would do something, maybe Joe Marek would do another Howard Reader, maybe . . .

Leo Grin changed all of that with The Cimmerian Volume 1, Number 1, dated April 2004. Scholarly, but without being scholarly, TC quickly became THE journal of Howard Studies. Informative, entertaining, timely: no other Howard publication could come close. And no longer would Howard fans have to wait, sometimes years, for a publication devoted to their favorite Texan, now they would receive a bi-monthly dose. And Leo remained true to that schedule for the life of the magazine, except in 2006 when he actually increased its frequency to monthly. True, sometimes issues were delayed, but never for long, and certainly not for years.

As if editing and publishing a serious, bi-monthly journal wasn’t enough, in 2005 Leo introduced The Cimmerian Awards. The awards honored the best and brightest in Howard scholarship from the preceding year. Presented at Howard Days that June, the awards were a big success. He also started The Cimmerian Library that year. This series of chapbooks featured items that didn’t quite fit in the regular publication. And Mr. Grin wasn’t finished yet.

After having my first article published in The Cimmerian (“Howard’s Ruin,” February 2005), Leo and I became fast friends; I was still new to fandom and Leo was kind enough to show me the ropes. It was during one of our initial email exchanges that I first heard of The Cimmerian blog, August 1, 2005, almost a year before it actually appeared. Leo had been telling me about his plan to get Howard the recognition he deserves and, completely off the cuff, mentioned that “one of my projects is going to be to revamp The Cimmerian’s website, put up a blog,” etc. At the time, I barely knew what a blog was and pretty much forgot about it.

By March of 2006 the blog was in its embryonic stage, with Leo using it to test posts and host information about old REHupa mailings that he was selling on eBay. Not many paid much attention to it though, especially considering that the print Cimmerian had gone monthly for the Howard Centennial. So, besides the monthly production, the annual TC Awards, a series of chapbooks, and a HUGE project he’d undertaken for the 200th mailing of the Robert E. Howard Amateur Press Association (ask a REHupa member for details), Leo still had one more trick up his sleeve.

Above: Mark Finn, Leo Grin, Steve Tompkins and Rob Roehm at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention.*

One week after Howard Days 2006, Leo sent the “keys” to his blog to Steve Tompkins, Mark Finn, and me, with the following instructions:

You are free to start whenever you want. No rules or regulations, just go for it. Any news items that crop up on the lists should be posted, as well as any new Howard projects or gossip. You can comment on your new REHupa, can muse a bit about some story or letter you’ve read recently, can review new books and products from others. Any other fantasy, Texan, or other related writers can be discussed, keeping in mind that Howard should at least ostensibly remain the focus of the blog.

The blog “went live” and on June 17, 2006, Leo posted the official announcement: “In an effort to improve the experience of Cimmerian readers and to further Howard studies on the Net in general, I am making some changes at the website for The Cimmerian that I hope will make a difference. [. . .]”

Then the instruction began. Only Leo knew the magical language of the blog. He patiently explained all of the ins and outs of posting to Mark, Steve and me: how to upload pictures, remove code from our text, and so on. And then we were off and running. For two and a half years the four of us posted on all manner of esoteric Howard nuggets. Good times.

When the print version of The Cimmerian ceased production at the end of 2008, the blog, also, was scheduled to end. But Steve Tompkins, by far the most active blogger of the bunch, petitioned Leo to leave the blog to him, and a new era of the TC blog began. With the exception of Tompkins, the original bloggers retired—even host Grin drastically reduced his frequency of posts when he turned the management over to Tompkins—and were replaced by an ever growing cast of bloggers: Steve Trout, Deuce Richardson, Brian Murphy, Al Harron, Barbara Barrett, Jeffrey Shanks, and several others.

With Steve’s unexpected and untimely death in 2009, Deuce Richardson took over the maintenance of the blog. And, while the Howard content has become more and more secondary, there was always something new to read at TC, and, if Al Harron’s information is accurate, its readership has been on the rise. That all ends on June 11.

The passing of the TC blog will erase the last public outcropping of Leo Grin’s involvement with Howard studies, but his and its impact will remain. No Howard fanzine produced today can ignore TC’s five year run; because of Leo, Howard fans expect a little more for their hard-earned cash than the pre-TC publications provided. And both this blog and the REHupa blog are direct results of the TC blog, with Grin himself helping to update them and bring them to the modern generation.

Hopefully, the end of the TC blog will reinforce Howard’s presence on the internet, with the current host of TC bloggers being absorbed elsewhere, starting their own websites, or continuing the conversation in other forums. As Leo frequently told me: One can always hope.

*Thanks to Mark Finn for having the wherewithal to get a picture of the four bloggers while we were all in Austin—the first and only time we all met together.