Some people may not be aware of it, but the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is more than just a society in name. We are an actual organization of Lovecraft fans - the world's largest, in fact. We have members in more than 30 different nations scattered across the globe. Members join to become part of a diverse community of people all of whom share an interest in the works of Lovecraft.
We're very fortunate in what we do that we're able to to travel to events across the world. The Society's headquarters are in the Los Angeles area, but we've been to Lovecraftian events from Melbourne to Stockholm and a great many places in between. It turns out there's folks deeply passionate about HPL in a great many parts of the world.
Recently we had the opportunity to attend CarcosaCon, a Call of Cthulhu™ gaming convention held in a castle in southwestern Poland. To get there, we had to travel through Berlin. As it ended up, on the way home I had a night in Berlin with not much to do. So I looked in our database to see if we had any members in Berlin. We do - a surprising number of them in fact. So I emailed them all, explained the situation and asked if anyone wanted to get together during my brief stay.
This is the cool part. I got a number of emails back. A few people were unavailable, but a number we're up for getting together. So that Sunday night I found myself in a Berlin pub with a bunch of local members and a couple of their friends. We swapped stories, shared props and other creations and enjoyed some fine German beer. But more importantly, we engaged in actual society. We came together as a group of strangers with a shared interest and had a delightful night getting to know one and other and enjoying our shared enthusiasm for HPL.
My evening in Berlin is just the latest example, but I've enjoyed similar get togethers with members in Helsinki and Portland, in Melbourne and Indianapolis, in Denmark and New Orleans. And it's a goal of the Society to help our members get to know each other, to forge alliances, and let our shared interests build lifelong friendships. So, if you are a member of the Society, or are interested in becoming one, this is my reminder of one of the very best perks that can come with HPLHS membership.
If you get something from us and it's not nicely wrapped in shrink wrap, it's not a mistake. As part of our ongoing effort to be more environmentally responsible, we've decided to try and avoid using single-use plastics anywhere we can. Sure, shrink wrap makes a product look nice, new, and shiny, but really its only function is for the customer to tear it off and throw it away.
As our CDs are made and assembled by the HPLHS at our headquarters in California, when our customers get them they are brand new. Because our Dark Adventure Radio Theatre CDs are so chock full of great props from the shows, sometimes the CD cases don't want to stay closed. But with some careful folding and the addition of some new, larger and stickier seals to close them up, we're confident we can get everything to you intact without the use of shrink wrap.
We're always re-evaluating our processes and procedures at the HPLHS to generate less waste and be as environmentally sensitive as we can be. We hope our customers will join us in the effort to take better care of the planet, consume less, recycle more so we can leave a nicer planet for Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones to enjoy when the stars are right.
Lovecraft saw similar disputes and rancor arising in the National Amateur Press Association during his own lifetime. We could do well to read what he had to say about it in 1936.
"Good will and a rational attitude cannot be established by force or edict, but widespread pertinent comment can sometimes help to discourage their most senseless and persistent violations… Genuine criticism of literary and editorial work, or of official policies and performances, is one thing. It is a legitimate and valuable feature of associational life, and can be recognised by its impersonal approach and tone. Its object is not the injury or denigration of any person but the improvement of work considered faulty or the correction of policies considered bad. The zeal and emphasis of the real critic are directed solely toward the rectification of certain definite conditions, irrespective of the individuals connected with them. But it takes no very acute observer to perceive that the current floods of vitriol and billingsgate... have no conceivable relationship to such constructive processes. The sabotage, non-coöperation, legalistic harrying, published abuse, partly circulated attacks, and kindred phenomena which have lately cheapened the association and hampered its work are of an all too evident nature... It is impossible to discover any useful purpose behind any example of the recent bickering, notwithstanding the lofty and disinterested motives professed in certain cases... In the present epidemic we ruefully note a great deal of unmotivated savagery from prominent members who are not only capable of better things but who have accomplished and are accomplishing much for the association. That the N.A.P.A. can—or should—attempt to control the private ethics and individual taste of its various members is greatly to be doubted… What amateurdom may well attempt is simply to oppose the use of its own facilities and mechanism—as agents in the exercise of loutish personal rancour and gratuitous small-boy brutality.”
—H.P. Lovecraft in an open letter to the National Amateur Press Association, 1936
"What do you do for a living?" - it's a question I always dread. Running the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society it's... just, well, it's not easy to explain. Our jobs here are weird and multiform, hopelessly specific, and fantastically obscure. Even after decades of practice, I find my best answer often elicits a confused stare from the person who made the faux pas of asking about my job. However, if I'm at a Southern California grocery store, all bets are off.
So today I was a Trader Joe's buying my groceries and making small talk with the bagger and checker. After inviting me to join them at the Harry Potter thing at Universal Studios, the bagger asked me what I do. I used my shortest answer: I'm a producer. He asked what I make and I said lately we've been making a lot of old fashioned style radio plays. He found that interesting and asked if we did things like horror stories. "Why, yes," I replied. He asked if they were like H.P. Lovecraft stories. "They are very much like that, in fact we only produce Lovecraft stories," I replied. I explained that our company is the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. I pointed to my Gilman House Lounge t-shirt that I was wearing as an example of the kind of thing we make.
He told me I was the second guy to come in today wearing one of those shirts. "Seriously? I replied. I mean, we don't sell all that many Gilman House shirts and two dudes wearing them to the same Trader Joe's on the same day seemed to strain credulity. But he was very sure of the fact and was very excited to learn that the HPLHS now has a retail presence here in Los Angeles (more on that in a future post). He was going to be headed to our neighborhood later in the week and was eager to check out our store.
That was pretty strange. But stranger still is the fact that this sort of thing happens with alarming regularity to me at Los Angeles grocery stores. I must hasten to point out though, it does NOT happen at other kinds of stores. Liquor stores, gas stations, hardware stores... never. Grocery stores - all the time. In fact Scott the Cheese Guy at my local Whole Foods is a pretty serious Lovecraft fan and he rushed up to talk to me since I was wearing a Call of Cthulhu shirt. But Scott has nothing on Steve the Wine Guy at that same Whole Foods who is such an HPLHS fan that he once told me in case of a fire at his house, he'd instructed his wife to first rescue his wok, then his CD of The Dunwich Horror and finally his children. I hastened to point out we have more copies of The Dunwich Horror and I'm hoping he's revised his priorities in his wife's rescue plan. Steve feels very strongly that the HPLHS should start producing Lovecraftian tiki shirts. But I digress...
So yes, what we do at the HPLHS is odd and obscure. And odds are if you're here reading our store's blog page, you're a member of what might often feel like an obscure fan community if not a full-blown secret society. But, my regular grocery store Lovecraft encounters remind me that we are part of a every growing community of folks who enjoy the works of HPL and who take delight in finding others with similar interests. Wear your Lovecraft t-shirt to the grocery store.
Among HPL's most enduring creations there's Great Cthulhu, the forbidden Necronomicon, there's nameless cults and blasphemies from beyond time and space. But really, my favorite is Miskatonic. Conjured up in Lovecraft's imagination, Miskatonic is perhaps the most joyful of Lovecraft's creations. A mix of Brown University and Harvard, relocated in a fictionalized version of Salem, Miskatonic is the perfect institution of higher learning for those of us inclined to the macabre, the obscure and the horrific.
Miskatonic is the kind of place that mounts fantastic expeditions to unknown regions of the Antarctic or Australia's Great Sandy Desert. It's the kind of place where librarians keep the keys to the most interesting book on stout chains they wear around their necks. It's the kind of place that would admit young Herbert West and promote him to physician when the typhoid epidemic became too severe. It's folklorists professors confront alien horrors in Vermont. It's graduate students become frozen snacks for Elder Horrors in the polar waste. It imparts the kind of forbidden knowledge that set young Walter Gilman on his doomed academic journey. Yep, I want to go to Miskatonic.
Don't get me wrong, I had a fun undergraduate education. At the University of Colorado I studied mesoamerican archeology. I learned to read and write the hieroglyphic language of Ancient Egypt. I did an independent study course in Renaissance Hermeticism. For a state university - it was pretty cool, and I was just a Theatre major. Then I went on to graduate school at CalArts which was challenging, bizarre and scary in completely different ways. I loved getting an education - but some part of me will always yearn to have attended Miskatonic.
The HPLHS has produced innumerable Miskatonic projects over the years. We sing about it in A Shoggoth on the Roof. We filmed it in The Whisperer in Darkness. We've made it's hoodies, t-shirts, coffee mugs, course books and diplomas. We've written its academic monographs. Recently we've even gone so far as to create letterman's hoodies for dear old MU. Why? Well, it turns out there's a bunch of you that seem to feel the same way that we do about our faux alma mater. All of us take delight in that leap of imagination that lets us ask: what if I had gone there? What would I have studied? Would I be able to deploy my esoteric knowledge for good like a Henry Armitage? Or would my education have opened my mind to terrifying vistas of reality as to bring about my doom? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to keep enrolling in their Continuing Ed. classes.
If you poke around our store, you'll see an awful lot of our products have nothing but five star reviews. You'll read the enthusiastic endorsements of fans who enjoy the bizarre things we create. And it may seem a little suspect that you don't see many posts decrying things we make as being mediocre or worse.
We don't edit or delete bad reviews from our site. We're fortunate that our business is made by Lovecraft fans for Lovecraft fans and on the whole, people seem to take a lot of pleasure in what we make. Of course reviews tend to be written by customers who are either very happy with what they've purchased or who are very unhappy. In browsing customer reviews on Amazon or Yelp! you'll usually see a stream of ecstatic reviews punctuated by the occasional post of outrage or despair. The stronger one feels about a product - either in the positive or the negative - the more likely one is to go to the trouble to post a review.
We're incredibly honored that HPLHS customers share their thoughts with other prospective customers. Some of our products are quite expensive and one has good cause to deliberate before taking the plunge. We hope that heartfelt endorsements of others' experiences with these products will help bolster your confidence. We work hard to ensure every product we make is of excellent quality. And we work hard to ensure that every transaction with the HPLHS meets our exceeds our customers' expectations. And if something goes wrong or is not up to snuff, we do whatever we can to remedy the situation.
So we hope you'll have fun looking through the array of weird stuff we sell and reading the opinions of our those who have ordered them. And know that we're happy to add your voice to our chorus of customer comments, whatever you may have to say.
Since we started silk screening t-shirts in house some ten years or so ago, we've been sourcing most of our garments from a company called American Apparel. We liked them as they offered excellent quality garments, were local to us here in Southern California, and they took a pronounced stand to ensure their products were made in sweat-shop free conditions. As you probably know, producers of garments have engaged in a global "race to the bottom" as manufacturers have scoured the globe to find the cheapest sources of labor imaginable. And while everyone likes a bargain, we were not comfortable with the notion of buying garments which might have been made under dubious conditions in Cambodia or Honduras. It was felt good to be supporting a local business where we could drive to the factory and pick up our orders.
Changes in the apparel industry battered our old friend American Apparel and they went through bankruptcy proceedings and continued to make shirts and hoodies. But last week, American Apparel was bought out by their Canadian rival Gildan. These kinds of things happen in business from time to time. But we were sad to see the new owner's first move was to close down American Apparel's production facilities, immediately fire 2,400 workers and start closing down a retail chain of more than 100 stores. Globalization is a real thing and the consequences of a global economy hit home today. We're heartbroken for the workers who have been making the garments we've been selling to you for all these years.
The HPLHS is now hard at work trying to find the best supplier we can for our garments. We're looking for another producer who protects its workers and is environmentally responsible. We're looking for outstanding quality, and of course we want to keep our garments as affordable as possible for you. It's a tricky set of criteria. But that's our job and we hope to meet new partners and perhaps find some great new garments to incorporate into our family of Lovecraftian garments.