Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dear Walter B. Gibson, Hypergraphic Icon...

Dear Mr. Walter B. Gibson (aka Maxwell Grant, esq.);

I understand you were, like, the most prolific guy on the planet, in your day.

On top of that, you were a reporter and magician and you hung out with some awesome people: y'know, like Blackstone, Dunninger, Kreskin, and Houdini, all of whom were the inspiration behind The Shadow.

You, Mr. Gibson, were the principal pulp inkmonger behind that dark and snarky figure who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, that denizen of pulp fiction, radio plays, movies old and new, that icon of comic books, comic strips and graphic novels, and inspiration of umpteen gazillion toys, trinkets and doodads.

Heck, the Shadow even inspired other huge blockbusters, not the least of which are the Green Hornet and Batman.

Okay, so granted, the Shadow wasn't your original idea, but you sure ran far with it. And I've got a strong suspicion you didn't get to see a lot of cash from merchandising or the film rights, and maybe most people have all but forgotten your name...

But dang it, you're the only person I know of who wrote more than 300 novels in his lifetime. A sustained cruising speed of 10,000 words a day! Almost 1,700,000 words in a single year! That's a rate that would break the average human being! Look up "hypergraphia" in the dictionary, and there's a picture of Walter B. Gibson.

I've got a couple of posthumous questions for you. The first one that jumps to mind is "were you insane", but there's no point asking that, because the answer is self-evident.

But there are a whole bunch of other questions that have been plaguing me since the Muskoka Novel Marathon. I was thinking of you the whole time (when I probably should have been plotting and writing, instead...). After all, I managed to write 56,000 words in 72-hours (and then my eyes fell out), so to me, 10,000 words a day suddenly doesn't seem so unattainable.


Were you any good? I mean come on - 10,000 words a day? On a typewriter? Did you even have time to edit? Did you actually check your spelling, or did you drive your copy editors to drinking?

Did you have a life? A day job? Wikipedia tells me you had been married. So did you ever have to do bachelor-y things, like, your laundry? Wash the dishes? Fix the car? And did your wife ever get tired of your constant clackety-clack on the old Corona?

And did you ever get sick of it? All the writing, the deadlines, the pressures, the constant need to come up with a distinct plot and unique characters...?

As for me, this is the first creative thing I've written since the marathon two weeks ago, so how you could keep coming up with new stories every two weeks...! You once said in an interview that before you were finished one project, you had ideas for the next - but didn't you ever wonder if some day the well would run dry?

Did you ever wish you could throw off the shackles and actually write something of critical acclaim? Have your work recognized for its merit, and less so for its accumulation?

But the question that's been plaguing me all this time: how the heck is a hack like me supposed to compete against a legacy like yours, Mr. Gibson? In this age of Facebook games and blogging and addictive podcasts, can anyone ever leave as lasting and as robust an impact on pop lit as you?

Is it even remotely possible that someone like me could follow in your footsteps? Someone who gets giddy designing databases? Someone who's taken up drumming, dancing and winter camping for "research"? Someone who stands in front of the washing machine scratching her head and wondering why she came into the laundry room in the first place?
Walter B. Gibson, September 12, 1897 – December 6, 1985, Inkmonger and Ideasmith

Someone who can write 56,000 words in 72 hours...?

Who knows? But it'll sure be fun to try.

Mwaa ha ha ha!

For more information about Walter B. Gibson (aka Maxwell Grant) and about the origins of the Shadow - here's a great story by Robby Reed, and an article by William V. Rauscher.


  1. Isaac Asimov wrote almost 500 books...I don't think these guys ever slept.

  2. According to Wikipedia: Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 9,000 letters and postcards.[2] His works have been published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (the sole exception being the 100s: philosophy and psychology). Yeah, great...Maybe I can be satisfied landing between the two of them...