PULPTACULAR | Pro Se
Last week we kicked off our tour of the New Pulp world with a look at Airship 27, the publishing company run by Ron Fortier, one of New Pulp’s most prominent voices. This week, we’re exploring Pro Se Productions, the company run by Tommy Hancock, the person who most personifies the New Pulp movement for me.
Tommy’s not only heavily involved with the site you’re visiting right now, he’s also one of the leading voices in the All Pulp news blog, lead host on the Pulped podcast, and Marketing and Promotions Coordinator for Moonstone, another pulp publisher we’ll be getting to down the road. First though I wanted to find out more about Pro Se, the company where Tommy serves as Editor-in-Chief of the pulp line.
Michael: Tommy, what led you to start your business? What was missing that you wanted to provide?
Tommy: Actually, Pro Se was already a business when I was brought into it. Its founder and my partner, Fuller Bumpers, has a background in TV and film, both as an actor and writer, and when he moved back to his wife’s hometown in Arkansas, he wanted to do something to keep that creative side going, as well as create a business involving the things he liked. Turns out that his wife’s hometown is also my hometown, Batesville, a place I work in quite a bit. Fuller and I cross paths frequently in our day jobs and as we got to know each other, he told me about his company and things he wanted to do and brought me in that way.
When I joined Pro Se, we were looking for our niche; the medium by which we could make a name for ourselves, be as creative as possible, and hopefully expand into what we do on an everyday basis. We produced some audio shows, talked about short films and plays, but really the push from the get-go always had to do with writing. We’re both writers and find our greatest passion there. With that in mind, I brought up the New Pulp field as a direction to go, one I was already involved with as a writer. We recruited writers and artists, went to work, and here we are at the end of our first publishing year.
I’m not sure that anything was exactly missing; we didn’t come into New Pulp to necessarily fill a gap. It was more about being one of the building blocks of something, a form of literature – a movement really – that appealed to us more than anything. We wanted to be a proving ground for new creators and we have definitely been that. We wanted to do stories that pushed Pulp boundaries without breaking them and we’ve succeeded in that way. We’ve become a place where known New Pulp authors feel comfortable imparting a tale or two and that’s really cool as well.
Michael: What differentiates Pro Se from other New Pulp publishers?
Tommy: Probably the thing that stands out is that we’ve focused almost exclusively on original characters. There’s been a Public Domain-type or three pop up here and there (and there’ll likely be more), but Pro Se’s push has been for stories and books focused on newly created characters that fall into a genre and character-type that fit squarely with standards set by the writers of the classic pulps and are carried forward today by the creators of New Pulp.
We’re also, as I said before, known for introducing a lot of great authors and artists to the New Pulp field that really haven’t broken in any other way: Nancy Hansen, Ken Janssens, Lee Houston Jr, Pete Cooper, David Russell, and the list goes on and on. It’s really been amazing to me since Pro Se has jumped feet first into New Pulp how many of our creators and supporters, both people who got their start with us as well as some fairly well-established New Pulp creators, have commented that Pro Se is like a creative family for them. We are definitely a business as well, but I think it says something when the people who work for a company consider it more than that.
Michael: Where’d the name Pro Se come from?
Tommy: This goes back to Fuller, my partner. He is, by day, an attorney and the term pro se is a legal one. It refers to when someone chooses to defend themselves in a legal action, so basically it means “do it yourself.” Not really a wise choice in any court of law honestly, but the meaning and the ring of it works well for a publishing company.
Michael: The first thing I noticed when I saw it was that when you put the two words together they make “prose.” Was that an intentional word play as well?
Tommy: It wasn’t intentional because originally the company was going to be doing audio and film production. When we made the switch to publishing, our name became sort of a happy accident.
Michael: Which one Pro Se title do you recommend for someone who’s never read one of your books? Where’s the perfect place to start to get an accurate feel for what Pro Se represents?
Tommy: This is a bit difficult to answer because Pro Se produces books and magazines. We have twelve titles available currently, that’s an average of one a month in our first publishing year, and will continue to do that, one of our slogans being “Putting the Monthly Back Into Pulp!” Another thing that makes this difficult is that Pro Se isn’t just about the writer and the artist, but we have an awesome designer in the person of Sean Ali who has turned out some truly awesome work in terms of format and design.
From the magazine perspective, a good representation of just how varied Pro Se is can be found in Pro Se Presents #1, our relaunch of our magazine line this past August. And as far as a good example of what Pro Se does book-wise, any of our first three books (Yesteryear, The Rook Volume Six, and Fortune’s Pawn) would be good starting points.
But there’s one that will likely be available by the time this posts that is truly a seminal work for Pro Se on all levels and sets the standard for what is to come. The Adventures of Lazarus Gray, written by Barry Reese, is a short-story collection spotlighting a character Barry created for Pro Se’sSovereign City Project, a shared universe concept. Everything about this book is spot on: the stories, the characters, the style, the art, the format and design. This is a New Pulp tale done completely right.
Michael: Let’s say someone has enjoyed every Pro Se title available and is still craving more like it. What classic pulp would you suggest he or she read that would be comparable to yours?
Tommy: Pro Se covers such a wide variety of genres and such with its work, especially in our magazines. We have fantasy covered, so Robert E. Howard comes to mind. Definitely, we have masked vigilantes and hero types, so that brings in classic hero pulps. We’ve stepped squarely off into the horror and science fiction realms as well in the past. To be honest, Pro Se has such a fair representation of comparable genres that the pulp gamut is pretty well covered. I’d say just pick a classic pulp you like and there's likely comparable content at Pro Se.
If you Google Pro Se Productions, you’ll find a website that’s different from the one I linked to at the top of this article. As Tommy mentioned, the company does a lot more than publishing pulp stories, so for those interested in Pro Se’s New Pulp stuff, he recommends checking out the blog. That’s what I did and found all the books and magazines Tommy talked about.
As I’m building a reading list for myself though, one title particularly jumped out and that’s the last one Tommy brought up, The Adventures of Lazarus Gray. It has a little to do with Gray’s being an homage to the Avenger, one of the few, classic pulp heroes I know anything about. Mostly though, I love the idea of Pro Se’s creating a shared universe for itself. I’m a fan of Marvel and DC comics, but that’s not where my excitement for this concept comes from. For one thing, I think it’d be extremely hard – if not impossible – to replicate something as extensive as Marvel and DC’s universes in a series of novels and/or short stories. But there is a closer precedent for this kind of thing in the Thieves’ Worldbooks edited by Robert Lynn Asprin.
Thieves’ World was a series of fantasy anthologies all set in the shared city of Sanctuary. Science fiction and fantasy writers as noted as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Andrew Ouffet, Lynn Abbey, and Poul Anderson contributed short stories and shared characters. It was a lot of fun and I’ve always wanted to read something else like it. The Adventures of Lazarus Gray sounds like it could be the beginning of something like that and I want to be there to witness it as it gets going. Undoubtedly I’ll add other Pro Se books to my list, but that’ll be the first.
Thanks so much to Tommy for indulging my questions. Next week, we’ll start hitting the rest of the New Pulp publishers alphabetically with the gorgeous books of Age of Aces.