Sunday, January 31, 2021

Robert Eighteen-Bisang: A Tribute

The COVID-19 pandemic has made life more insular, and in my case I had to focus so much more on work and family that I lost touch with great people whose friendship I cherish immensely. One of those friends is Robert Eighteen-Bisang, noted vampire literature aficionado and Dracula scholar, whom I had the great fortune to have met in 1998--and who was responsible for not only getting me my first professional writing gig, but also encouraged me over the years to continue researching and writing about our shared areas of interest. Rob passed away in September, 2020, and sadly I only found out about it today. This is devastating news, especially considering I've been telling myself for months now that I should call him to see how he's been faring during the pandemic. Regretfully, that opportunity is now lost. But I'd like to tell you more about my friend Rob.

If memory serves, I had virtually met Rob via email sometime after I had created my vampire pop culture website, Vampyres Only, in 1994. We first met in person in 1996 at his home in White Rock, after I had asked him to take part in an audio documentary that I was producing for a college course. This was also when I learned more about his publishing company, Transylvania Press, and the high-quality, limited edition hardcover (with slipcase!) books that he had produced: Dracula: The Rare Text of 1901, Love Bite by Sherry Gottlieb, The Vampire Stories of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Vanitas: Escape from Vampire Junction by S. P. Somtow (he was gracious enough to give me a copy of each one, which I treasure to this day). At that time, he even asked me to design the cover for Elizabeth Miller's Reflections on Dracula (1997).

It was only after interviewing Rob that I truly began to appreciate his immense knowledge of vampire literature, Bram Stoker, and Dracula--and I had the unique opportunity to see his collection first hand. In the basement of his home, in a climate-controlled, security-protected room, was a vast specialist library like none other in the world. This horror collection eventually amassed over 2000 comics, 1000 magazines, 100 films, and 2500 books--many of which were rare vampire books that had been unknown or forgotten until he unearthed them.

Rob often made the trek from his home to downtown Vancouver, where he enjoyed playing two of his lifelong passions: pool and backgammon. I'd always try to meet up with him for a coffee and a chat whenever possible, and we kept in touch by phone and email after I moved away in 1998. The last time I saw Rob was when I travelled to Vancouver in 2005, and in the 15 years since we would occasionally chat about his writing projects and books that he had been working on--and, of course, the new stuff he had added to his collection! He was member of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, The Horror Writers Association, and the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars--and often wrote essays and delivered lectures about his favourite subjects: Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the vampire myth in literature and popular culture.

Rob was also the one who set me on the road to being a published author. In 2009, he put me in touch with J Gordon Melton, who was working on the third edition of his very popular bloodsucker tome, The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (2011). I was tasked with re-writing the television section, and after I mentioned to Rob that I had uncovered much more in my research than what could be added to Melton's book, he suggested (nay, demanded!) I continue researching and write my own! So I did, and this led to Un-Dead TV: The Ultimate Guide to Vampire Television (2012/2016). His encouragement has led to other opportunities over the years, and I likely never thanked him enough for everything he had done.

My condolences to his wife, Matilda, and his other surviving family members. Rob continually amazed me with his vast knowledge and passion for vampire literature and popular culture, and when we last spoke he had been looking for a buyer for his extensive collection--ideally a university. I truly hope his horror library ends up somewhere where future students and scholars can access it while studying this valuable and worthwhile subject. That would be a great legacy for him. We also have his exceptional body of work, the most recent of which is a new annotated edition of Dracula set to be published sometime in 2021. 

Thank you, Rob, for your lifelong scholarship and the support you gave me over the years. I'm sorry we never had the chance to catch up over the past year. And to those reading this, if there's someone in your life with whom you've fallen out of contact, be sure to get in touch with them sooner rather than later--because that opportunity may end up being lost.

Here's a snapshot of Rob's books; his website is https://roberteighteen.com/.

  • Dracula: The Rare Text of 1901 (1994) - editor
  • Dracula: A Century of Editions, Adaptations, and Translations (1998) - with Elizabeth Miller
  • Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition (2008) - with Elizabeth Miller
  • Vampire Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle (2009) - contributor
  • Vintage Vampire Stories (2011)
  • Dracula in Visual Media: Film, Television, Comic Book and Electronic Game Appearances, 1921-2010 (2011) - contributor 
  • Drafts of Dracula (2019)
  • Annotated Dracula (2021)

Rest in peace, Robert Eighteen-Bisang (1947-2020). You will never be forgotten.



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