Historian of Horror : Boo-La-LA!

I am obliged to admit to being at a bit of a disadvantage this time out. While I did take one year of French in the ninth grade, that was almost fifty years ago. The next year, I switched to German. I took three years of it in high school and another couple in college. Although my Deutsch is very rusty after not using it for so long, I can still usually parse out fairly simple passages. I’m way past being able to read philosophical treatises, but I could probably manage the back of a cereal box.

On the other hand, I find I have to rely on what shared vocabulary English has with the Romance languages to make much sense of them. There’s a bunch, thankfully, so I can sometimes get through extremely simple bits, especially if I have some understanding of the context. So, when I chose to write today about a French publisher of horror novels, I was forced to call on whatever residual skills and knowledge I possessed along those lines because there is darn near diddly on the history of that enterprise in English on the internet. 

What in the world was I thinking?

Oh, well. Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together…

Our story begins in 1949 with Fleuve éditions, a publisher of popular novels. Their subsidiary imprint, Fleuve noir, specialized in a variety of genres arranged in separate collections – Spécial Police and Espionnage, which are pretty much self-explanatory; Anticipation, which was for science-fiction; and Angoisse, horror. Angoisse roughly correlates to the German word, Angst, which most English readers will no doubt recognize as being a component of that essential ingredient of horror, le frisson, that I keep going on about, that anticipatory shiver we all crave when delving into our favorite genre.

Angoisse was active from 1954 to 1974, with 261 books published. Based on the fewer than half of the novels I’ve been able to track down any information on, their most popular authors included Maurice Limat (September 23, 1914 – January 23, 2002), who split his efforts between Angoisse and Anticipation; Marc Agapit (pseudonym of Adrien Sobra, October 12, 1897 – September 21, 1985); Dominique Arly (November 8, 1915 – November 8, 2009); André Caroff (February 8, 1924 – March 9, 2009); and Dominique Rocher (July 6, 1929 – September 13, 2016). There were also occasional translations of American stories, including Donald Wandrei’s 1948 novel, The Web of Easter Island, published as Cimetière de l’effroi.

Limat was a prolific writer in several genres. His detective character, Teddy Verona, debuted in 1937 and became an occult detective when Limat went to work for Angoisse, beginning with 1962’s Le Marchand de Cauchmars (The Merchant of Nightmares). Limat wrote twenty-four Teddy Verona books for Angoisse, thirteen of which pitted him against the very naughty Mephista, beginning in 1969. Limat continued to write his adventures until 1981.

Agapit’s first novel for Angoisse, Agence tout crimes, came out in 1958; his last, Le Dragon de lumière (The Dragon of Light),  in 1974, a total of forty-four books. If he ever wrote a series with continuing characters, I can’t tell.

Dominique Arly wrote nineteen Angoisse books. Five featured one Rosamond Lew, all published in 1970 and 1971. Dominique Rocher contributed ten, none in any series that I can figure out.

Caroff had a series about the nefarious Madame Atomos that ran to seventeen volumes, plus one novel published under the Anticipation imprint, Les Sphères Attaquent (Attack of the Spheres), in which she was renamed Madame Cosmos. Along the way, she created a younger version of herself, Miss Atomos, who switched sides and fought against her ‘mother’. Comics publisher Aredit put out twenty-four issues of a Madame Atomos comic book beginning in 1968, most based on the series novels, the remainder adapted from other works by Caroff.

There were others, of course, including the house name Benoit Becker, under which several writers wrote pseudonymously; André Ruellan, who wrote under the name Kurt Steiner; and Agnès Laurent, which was the pseudonym of Hélène Simart. And so on for 261 volumes of scary French goodies. 

One of these days, I really need to drop around at some community college nearby and take a few courses in that most lovely of languages so I can finally read some of the books I’ve alluded to above. Might as well brush up on my German while I’m there since there are similar houses on the far side of the Rhine River that not only reprinted the Angoisse books but published long series of their own horror titles. But that’s another column, for another day.

 Next time, we’ll take a look at the very first horror comic book, Avon’s 1947 one-shot, Eerie Comics #1. Until then, aficionados of angst…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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