The magazine Deathrealm is long gone, but for historical interest I'm preserving here Mark Rainey's essay about its origins and history.
-- Lawrence Watt-Evans
Deathrealm, the title, came to me one day in 1986 while I was watching Be Forever Yamato, a Japanese animation movie that, surprisingly enough, featured space aliens invading the earth. Make no mistake, it's a damn cool movie, as was the whole "Yamato" series; but what stood out in that movie was a particular planet-sized space station that in Japanese was known as "Dezarium." Now, the Japanese use a particular type of symbol (Katakana) to construct words that are not native to the Japanese tongue. Foreign words are pronounced based on the arrangement of Katakana syllables, most of which are made up of two or three letters beginning with a consonant and ending with a vowel. For example, my full name would be constructed as "Tsu-chi-ba-n Ma-ku Re-Ni," the closest match of syllables to their English counterparts.
So, when confronted by a word such as "Dezarium," I tried to come up with some sort of English equivalent, and the closest I could come was "Deathrealm." Now, I'm fairly sure that the object in the movie is not actually known as "Deathrealm" to the Japanese; it would seem to be a completely fictional proper name, such as "Garumon" or "Gamiras" or "Bollar," names of some of the other alien beings in the Yamato series. However, I thought "Deathrealm" was a cool name, and decided one day I'd have to use it for something.
Shortly thereafter, I began to entertain thoughts of putting out a little magazine of Lovecraftian persuasion, similar to Crypt of Cthulhu, which at the time was about the only example of small press publishing that I had encountered. I had previously been involved in producing a fanzine devoted to Godzilla and pals called Japanese Giants, which had some professional distribution, and I worked at a company that manufactured typesetting systems; I had virtually everything at my disposal to produce and distribute a magazine. Too, I had been writing scary stories for years, some of which I'd circulated without any success to the standard Big Mags (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Weird Tales, etc.); whatever their relative merits, most of my stories were simply too damn big for your average market (well over 10,000 words in some cases). I decided the long tale needed a market. Deathrealm would be that market.
In magazines like Japanese Giants, the contents of which were strictly non-fiction, we had no preconceptions about publishing one's own work. My vision of Deathrealm was at the time something of a glorified chapbook which would feature some tales of my own as well as others by people I invited to submit, like Wilum Pugmire and Jessica Amanda Salmonson. And my roommate informed me that our mutual friend Jeff Osier, with whom he worked at Encyclopaedia Britannica, had written some stories and would I like to see them? Sure, I said, couldn't hurt. So Jeff gave me "The Encyclopedia for Boys," which I thought was perfect for the likes of Deathrealm, Jessica Salmonson sent me some poetry, Wilum Pugmire sent me stories, and the magazine was off and running.
For printing, Mike Stein of Filmfax fame had recommended to me K.K. Stevens Publishing in Astoria, IL, who did a good job for him at a good price. Sure enough, they quoted me better rates than I could find anywhere in Chicago. So Deathrealm became reality in the Spring of 1987, and with the distribution deals I made early on, became an instant money-maker. Not much money, mind you, but at the time, distributors were buying everything that came out -- soon causing a glut of black & white comics and triggering a drastic cutting back of titles that has basically been in effect ever since.
Soon after the first couple of issues, I found out about Scavenger's Newsletter, and thinking that filling an entire issue of DR might be a daunting thing, I opened the magazine to submissions from the masses.
Never again would the idea of filling up the magazine be a daunting thing.
I soon began selling my fiction to other markets, some of which paid in real dollars, bringing me to the conclusion that self-publishing in DR, though fun (and generally quite well-received by even the more cynical sorts who thought self-publishing was bad manners), cheated me of the vast financial rewards of selling my work to other markets. And furthermore, with the volume of submissions now coming over the transom, it seemed pointless to occupy DR's limited space with my own work when there were so many other, potentially better choices among the slush.
Deathrealm is about to publish its 25th issue, which will probably be out and about by the time you read this [It was. --LWE]. The history of the magazine has been one of many ups and downs, of literally dying graveyard dead and being revived -- twice, by two different publishers.
In late 1987, my family and I moved from Chicago to Greensboro, NC, where I went to work for a typography studio which allowed me to continue producing the magazine on the very same professional typesetting equipment I was using at my former place of employment. So until 1992, I kept the magazine going, despite a softening of the horror market and some drastic declines in distributor orders. The reputation of the magazine remained very good, not only for its production values and high quality fiction, but because its editor took the opposite tack from many in the small press and tried to keep the lines of communication open at all times between himself and the readers and contributors. I don't say this in boastful fashion; I merely mean that treating those who support the magazine with respect and courtesy is merely good business. With the small press such an unstable, transient environment, with magazines coming and going like jet planes at O'Hare, with so many folding and their editors running off with dollars that don't belong to them, it behooves anyone who hopes to stay around for the long haul to be upfront and available to people with an interest in the magazine.
Sure enough, in 1992, Precision Typographers was forced to fold due to poor economy and trouble with the IRS, leaving me without employment and a means to produce things like horror magazines. It couldn't have happened at a worse time for DR, though -- distribution had begun to climb again, subscriptions were reaching record levels, and critical response couldn't have been kinder. So having the carpet yanked out from under me didn't exactly make my day. I turned then to concentrating on my own writing, after making as many public announcements as I could that DR was on indefinite hiatus, and would hopefully at some point come back. During the period from March, 1992 to June, 1993, I wrote a couple of novels and a number of short stories, and while the novels are still looking for a home, the stories have done very well for me.
In early 1993, Stan Tal of Tal Publications took an interest in producing a quarterly magazine, and one such as DR, which was pretty well established, seemed a logical property to acquire. So after some negotiation, Tal and I agreed to re-launch DR as a Tal product, with me doing the actual editing and most of the production work on my computer at home, while he handled the business end, including financing, marketing and selling. And for five issues, the associaton with Tal was a success, with the circulation growing steadily. Some readers and contributors were not as happy with the inevitable influence from Tal that found its way into DR's pages, but on the whole, the character of the magazine remained essentially what it had always been -- a showcase for fiction dealing primarily with the supernatural, often with Lovecraftian influence. Still, lots of writers who had previously been associated with Tal began to knock at my door, some of them successfully, leading a lot of readers to wonder if Tal himself were not asserting more editorial control in the magazine than they were comfortable with.
As a point of fact, the most editorial change that Tal effected was a concentration on non-fiction, which he hoped would help the magazine appeal to more commercial markets. While the numbers still looked pretty good, I personally believe that the nonfiction additions didn't have the kind of allure we had hoped for, and in the meantime, Tal was making the transition from successful publisher to successful agent. A point was reached where he did not feel he could invest more in the magazine without also assuming more control of its contents. Neither of us felt comfortable with this arrangement, so in the fall of 1994, Tal suspended publication while searching for viable alternatives that would allow the magazine to continue.
That's when Malicious Press was born. I submitted to Stan a number of names of individuals that I thought might be interested in investing in the magazine. Of them, Terry Rossio, screenwriter for such films as "Aladdin," "The Puppet Masters," the TriStar "Godzilla" project (which has itself since been suspended), and novelist Lawrence Watt-Evans formed a partnership for the sole purpose of continuing the magazine. So at the beginning of 1995, Malicious Press (a name I originally suggested in jest but which struck a common fancy) became Deathrealm's publisher, with the two financial partners taking a much less active role in the operating of the magazine, essentially leaving all aspects of its production to me. So far, while the work involved has been almost overwhelming, the arrangement has been satisfactory, and thus far two issues have been released under the Malicious Press imprint. This has allowed much of my original vision for Deathrealm to resurface, while offering a pretty hefty challenge to create a commercially viable product in this very lean period for the magazine market. Thus far, things seem to be on track, though collecting on the bills to most distributors is a task I would not wish upon my most dastardly arch-enemy.
In closing, let me invite any and all of you who haven't experienced Deathrealm to give it a try. There's a personality in this magazine that's evolved over the years, shaped not as much by me as by the many, many fine contributors that have appeared in its pages. The top-grade art, the consistently compelling storytelling, the engaging styles of the feature writers, all add up to a very distinctive package that I am incredibly proud to be associated with. For all its headaches, long hours, and negligible financial rewards, I'd still rather continue with Deathrealm than see it fold and fade into the oblivion of small press history. I like to think it's deserving of the pair of "Best Magazine" awards given by SPWAO, later SPGA, and while I humbly accept whatever credit is due for my editorial efforts, I submit that its real success is owed to writers like Jeffrey Osier, Elizabeth Massie, Fred Chappell, Joe R. Lansdale, James Robert Smith, Chad Hensley, J.N. Williamson, Brian Miller, Yvonne Navarro, Lisa Wimberger, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Wilum Pugmire, Jeffrey Goddin, and everyone else whose excellent writing has appeared in its pages; to artists like Harry Fassl, Alan Clark, Keith Minnion, Ian McDowell, Augie Wiedemann, Michael Kucharski, Allen Koszowski, Alfred Klosterman, and all those whose visual contributions have helped draw the audience into the magazine, and who in fact give readers their first impression of each issue.
Along the way, I've had invaluable help from Danielle D'Attilio, who has taken on most of the burden of screening unsolicited manuscripts. Dani's a fine writer herself, with sales to markets like 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Terminal Fright, and others. Also, my wife Peggy has pitched in to help with a lot of the basic legwork it takes to get each issue out. One can't say enough good things about the people who've volunteered to pitch in for no pay and often a lot of bitching as thanks. But without them, my job would be all that much harder, if not impossible.
I appreciate the opportunity to share something of Deathrealm and myself with you. Hope you have enjoyed it as well, and will give us the chance to impress you further by venturing into The Land Where Horror Dwells itself.
-- Mark Rainey
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