Super Stories of Heroes & Villains: A Conversation with Claude Lalumière

GirlA handful of great short story collections have been published in 2013 and editor Claude Lalumière has been responsible for two of them. In February, Lalumière (along with co-editor, Camille Alexa) cobbled together a book featuring Canadian superheroes called Masked Mosaic. And now he’s back with an outstanding “best of” anthology called Super Stories of Heroes & Villains featuring the mighty talents of Jonathan Lethem, George R.R. Martin, Kelly Link, Gene Wolfe, Cory Doctorow, and Tim Pratt (among others). Lalumière has been busy promoting superhero prose fiction all year and we decided to invite him into our sanctum sanctorum for a brief chat.

SuperheroNovels: You’ve curated two superhero anthologies this year (both of them excellent, btw). Masked Mosaic is an all-original book with a specific agenda, and Super Stories of Heroes & Villains features a loose collection of previously published stories. Can you talk about your editorial process in relation to each book? We presume your role as editor was substantially different with each project.

Claude Lalumière: The editing process for both projects was simultaneously similar and different. Similar because, for both books, the process boiled down to reading as many stories as possible and then winnowing down the selection to the best assemblage of stories.

For Masked Mosaic, that core activity of reading and winnowing was simple: because it was all-original, my co-editor Camille Alexa and I read all the submissions that came in and passed on stories until we were left with a book with a shape, tone, length, and diversity that pleased us. For Super Stories of Heroes & Villains, which is a best-of anthology culling stories from the past three decades of superhero fiction, “reading” and “selecting” were both less straightforward activities.

The stories that make up the table of contents of the reprint volume originated from four sources: I came to the project with a number of stories I already knew I wanted (although not all of these made the final cut); I sent out a call for reprint submissions; I set up a webpage and email address to receive story suggestions; and I continued to research and read as widely as I could, combing through books, periodicals and the web for possible stories to include.

With an all-original book like Masked Mosaic, every story we read was available for us to use if we wanted it. After all, that’s why those stories were submitted to the anthology; with a reprint project like Super Stories of Heroes & Villains, various rights issues could (and did) interfere with the selection process.

SN: A number of entries in Super Stories have appeared in recent superhero collections (such as Superheroes, Masked, Who Can Save Us Now? and The Darker Mask). Did this concern you during your final selection process?

CL: Not at all—that was the point. Super Stories of Heroes & Villains is a retrospective best-of volume. The idea was to comb through various anthologies, collections and other venues to find not only the best superhero stories but also those that, together, formed a statement about the scope, diversity, range, history and state of the superhero prose story. For the most part, I selected only one story per previous volume of superhero fiction (for example, Chris Roberson’s “A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows” from Masked, and “Trickster” by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due from The Darker Mask). The major exception to that is that I picked three stories from Who Can Save Us Now?—because it’s one of my favourite anthologies ever, in any genre; its overall tone, I felt, resonated well with my own ideas about the superhero story. That said, more than half the book is culled from sources other than superhero anthologies. It’s true that a competing reprint volume was announced after ours (but published earlier); however, between its 16 stories and our 28 selections, there are only two overlapping stories. They’re distinct books with different outlooks and, from what I can tell by the contents of that other book, different agendas and objectives.

SN: In your introduction you say that we’re experiencing a resurgence of superhero fiction. We agree. But can you elaborate why you think this? And can you point to some specific examples of recent novels that are expanding the genre upward? Or is this “resurgence” only happening in short form fiction?

CL: I don’t know about “expanding the genre upward”—I’m not too comfortable making that kind of value judgment, but I certainly think that there used to be a stigma attached to the superhero genre (both within fantasy and science fiction and within the mainstream), just as there used to be a stigma against comics. The superhero genre and the comics medium have, in North America, a strongly entwined history, and the two, perhaps not so coincidentally, gained more credibility once they started to be viewed more independently of each other in the popular imagination; “comics” and “superhero” are no longer treated as near synonyms, and that’s been good for both of them. Certainly, for example, the wide popularity of superhero films to an audience far beyond the comics readership has demonstrated that the superhero genre can be expressed successfully in media other than comics. In the world of prose publishing, I’d point to two major milestones: within science fiction, George R.R. Martin’s shared-world Wild Cards series, released steadily since 1986 and featuring a host of well-respected science fiction and fantasy writers; in the mainstream, Michael Chabon’s masterful Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay had a game-changing impact.

SN: With two stellar anthologies to your credit this year, you get our vote for ambassador of superhero fiction. How did you catch the superhero bug in the first place? And why does the genre continue to resonate with you?

CL: I can’t remember not being into superheroes. My earliest memories of superheroes are probably the live-action Ultraman TV show from Japan and the 1960s Batman TV series with Adam West. In the comics, some of my earliest enthusiasms include the Avengers (especially the anti-authoritarian Hawkeye), Doctor Strange and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Ultimately, I’m more interested in the “hero” part than the “super” aspect. That said, the combination of “super” and “hero” is irresistible. Back to the notion of “hero”: I’m not so much interested in the Campbellian idea of the hero’s journey—in that sense, “hero” basically means “glorified protagonist”; what I’m interested in is heroism: the utopian urge to do the right thing and relentlessly strive for a better world; the ideal of a life driven by a profound sense of ethics, as embodied by characters of larger-than-life nobility.

SN: What’s up next for you, superhero or otherwise?

CL: I always have several projects on the go.

One of them is a mosaic novel called Venera Dreams, focusing on a fantastical European city-state called Venera. Several chapters, which also work as stand-alone episodes, have already appeared in anthologies and periodicals. Yet more episodes are coming soon. I maintain a webpage (LostMyths.net) where readers can keep track of the Venera stories. There’s even a superhero connection. One episode, called “Vermilion Dreams: The Complete Works of Bram Jameson,” mentions, among other superhero elements, a 1950s jet-setting crimefighting duo called Interzone and Arrowsnake (you can find that one in the anthology Tesseracts 14). Another episode, “The Surrealist Lanterns,” which is set to appear in an anthology I can’t mention yet, features Salvador Dalí as a superhero called the Surrealist Lantern.

Another thing I recently started work on is a full-on superhero project, which I’m doing with a number of cartoonist collaborators. Avatars of Adventure is a series of short comics stories exploring various superhero archetypes. I’m still figuring out the exact details of how and where these will appear, and also the full lineup of collaborators, but I expect that episodes will start appearing sometime in 2014, or 2015 at the latest.

SN: Is there a possibility of a sequel to Masked Mosaic and/or Super Stories?

CL: I’m always game to edit anthologies—I have 12 under my belt; anthology editing is something I’m passionate about. I’m especially keen to do superhero anthologies, as the superhero genre is one of my greatest loves. If the publishers are willing to follow up on either volume, I’d enthusiastically don my super-editor hat again.

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