Archive for September, 2010

In my last post I gave reasons why I believe we should add several stories to the list of Howard’s works. In that discussion I mentioned “From Tea to Tee,” but did not say much about it. That particular story presents a challenge, and warrants a discussion all its own. To wit:

The October 27, 1926 issue of Howard Payne College’s student paper, the Yellow Jacket, contains a short article entitled “Jacket to Have Short Story Writer.” The article states that Robert E. Howard “has consented to furnish the Jacket with stories from time to time.” As promised, that very issue has not one, but two Howard yarns.

The next issue, November 3, has another Howard story; this was under the title “Weekly Short Story.” Despite this information being absent from the article of the week before, this story’s title makes it pretty clear that readers could expect a new story by Howard every week. There is no short story the following week, but the week after that, November 17, has the unsigned “For the Honor of the School.” Anyone paying attention would expect the story’s author to be Bob Howard, even though it is presented without a byline or any other indication of authorship.

Any ambiguity about who wrote what was solved in the December 8, 1926 edition. Besides the editorial staff, the Staff Box on page two was expanded to include feature and special writers, including what column or feature those writers were responsible for. Bob Howard appears on that list, followed by “Short Stories.” Ironically, there are no short stories in that issue. He gets the same billing in the December 16 issue, probably the last issue before the winter break, but again there is no short story.

That pattern is broken with the first issue of the new year, January 6, 1927, which has two stories, both without a byline; however, Howard gets credit in the Staff Box for “Short Stories,” so like most of the other features in the paper, it doesn’t need a byline; the authors are listed in the Staff Box. There were probably two stories in this issue because none had appeared in the previous issues, thus creating a backlog.

Howard does appear weekly—in the Staff Box at least—from December 8, 1926 to March 10, 1927, though the last story during this run appeared a month before, on February 10th.

A curious thing occurs in the March 17 edition: the Staff Box reverts to its original, abbreviated state with only the editorial staff listed and no writers. Of course there would be a short story in this issue, an unsigned one, “From Tea to Tee.” So, who wrote it? I say Robert E. Howard.

There are any number of reasons for his name not appearing in the issue. In fact, this same thing had already happened back in November. Perhaps the Staff List was shrunk at the last minute because extra space was needed. Perhaps the paste up team didn’t notice that there was no byline. Who knows what happened. The real evidence is this: All of the regular columns appear as usual, with or without bylines, just as the readers have become accustomed. Someone picking up this issue of the Yellow Jacket would have no reason to think anything was different: If there’s a short story, it’s by Bob Howard.

Upon reading the tale, the intuition would be confirmed. It’s a light romance about a guy who would rather play golf than go to tea with his mother. There’s nothing in the story that says it couldn’t be by Howard, and there is plenty to suggest that it is. The humor is more understated than in previous Yellow Jacket offerings, but it fits in with the other stories. In some of his earlier tales from The Tattler, Howard poked fun at the upper classes; here, with names like “Mrs. J. Edward Vanderfellow-Heatherlegh,” that tradition continues.

Perhaps it’s coincidence, but according to Post Oaks and Sand Roughs Howard contracted the measles right around this time. Here are the opening lines of “From Tea to Tee”:

If anybody was ever sick, J. Edward Heatherlegh, Jr., was that. He didn’t have the measles, he was too well bred for that, nor did he have the croup, he was too old. He was not sick at the stomach—he was sick of being “towed around like a kid to all this society rot.” Not an afternoon nor an evening for the last three weeks had he had to himself. Mrs. J. Edward Vanderfellow-Heatherlegh, Senior had taken, rather led him to lawn teas, dinners, dinner-dances, theaters, balls and what have you until he was almost tired even of her; if a twenty-one year old man may be allowed to grow tired of his mother.

Yes, Howard was 21 at this time. And, if Lindsey Tyson’s memories were correct, Howard was having a tiff with his folks about this time. They wanted to take him home from Brownwood to avoid his catching the measles during the epidemic; he wanted to stay.

Anyway, all the evidence for the story’s inclusion is circumstantial, but I believe the editorial practices of the Yellow Jacket were consistent enough at this time that if the story were written by someone other than Howard, there would have been a byline proclaiming that it was, in fact, someone else’s work. The story is a bit off, but there are plenty of places where it sounds like Howard. Finally, some of the content eerily reflects some of the things we know about Howard at this time.

Finally, my feeling is that if we are already including “The Reformation: A Dream” in the list of Howard’s works—a story for which we have no byline or mention in the Staff Box—there’s no reason we shouldn’t include “From Tea to Tee” too.

Just as I predicted last year, another crackpot has popped up spouting mindless drivel about Robert E. Howard.

It is fairly easy to throw punches at someone who has been dead for nearly 75 years and can’t mount a defense against hateful and malicious accusations.  By now many of you are aware of this post made by author Jason Sanford, which seems oddly out of place in our new, more tolerant post-racial society shepherded in by our first bi-racial president.

Despite what he says, I doubt Mr. Sanford read much past Gary Romeo’s “Southern Discomfort” and “Black Canaan” — he certainly didn’t read over 200 Howard stories before making his conclusion, which is what a serious researcher would have done.

Were there elements of racism in some of Howard’s stories? Why yes there were.  But the vast majority of his writings  don’t have a racist element in them.  There were a number of other pulp writers who catered to the racist crowd – Howard was not one of them. And as he matured, he softened his views which were formulated by his environment.  Despite Mr. Sanford’s contention that environment has nothing to do with it, I say it has everything to do with it. The part of Texas where Howard was born and raised was just 40 years removed from the time when Comanches killed and scalped settlers. So yeah, there was some animosity there toward American Indians. But remember, it was a vastly different world than the one we live in today. 

Friend of TGR, Al Harron, defended Howard brilliantly on his blog, which includes a comment from Charles Saunders wherein he agrees with Al’s take on the racism question. I respect the opinions of both Al and Charles who have probably have forgotten more about Howard and his writings than Mr. Sanford will ever know or understand.

Sorry Mr. Sanford, but I can’t take anyone seriously who panhandles online.  And I say this with all sincerity — you are wrong in your conclusions and are doing a great disservice to Howard and the important place he holds in American literature. Thank God no one with an IQ above 60 will take you seriously.

In The Last Celt, under “Authorship Uncertain,” Glenn Lord lists four stories: “For the Honor of the School,” “Rivals,” “His War Medals,” and “From Tea to Tee.” All of these stories are from Howard Payne’s student newspaper, The Yellow Jacket, and the reason Lord suggests them is, as he says, “Howard was the short story writer” for the paper during that period. Of the four, Mr. Lord suggests that the first “could be by Howard”; the rest, well. . .  Ever since coming across that list, back in the ’80s, I’ve wanted to have a look at those stories. There are also a few references to the Yellow Jacket in Howard’s correspondence that I’ve wanted to investigate. Recently, I had my chance.

Before there was The Yellow Jacket, there was The Prism. From the fall of 1915 to the spring of 1923, The Prism was responsible for bringing the students at Howard Payne College news from the school, the community, and the world. Early in the 1923-24 school year, a couple of recent graduates from Brownwood High were elected editor-in-chief and associate editor of the Howard Payne paper. Fresh from their stint on The Tattler, where they held those same positions, Claude C. Curtis and C. S. Boyles, Jr., took over the student paper at HP, changing its name to The Yellow Jacket. [Note: Boyles later wrote fiction as Will C. Brown.]

Boyles had graduated from Cross Plains High School in May 1922, but, as most of you know, the Cross Plains school only went to the 10th grade and, to be eligible for college, another year of schooling was necessary. Boyles went to Brownwood High to get that extra year. He landed a job there on the school paper and, starting in December of 1922, he and Editor Curtis published a stream of fiction by another of their classmates from Cross Plains, Robert E. Howard.

Curtis and Boyles knew a good thing when they had it. Shortly after starting work on the paper at Howard Payne, Boyles asked Howard to continue his submissions. In his September 9, 1923 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, then a junior at Brownwood High, Howard says, “C.S. Boyles is going to Howard Payne and is associate editor of the Howard Payne paper. He asked me to write for it.” But a month later, October 5, 1923, Howard tells Smith “I haven’t sent anything to the Yellow Jacket yet.” That wouldn’t be true for very long.

As reported in The Progress, the student paper of Cross Plains High School, both Curtis and Boyles visited Cross Plains late in January of 1924. Shortly after that visit, March 7, 1924, “Letter of a Chinese Student” appeared in the HP paper. Another “Letter” appeared early that May.

Members of the Robert E. Howard Foundation who receive the Newsletter are even now reading these two “new” items from The Yellow Jacket archives, both entitled “Letter of a Chinese Student,” and both apparently “lost” until now. I imagine these yarns escaped the notice of Howard scholars for a couple of reasons: first, they were published during the 1923-24 school year, the year before Howard enrolled in HP’s commercial school for the first time; and, second, both are unsigned. The only reason they were identified as Howard’s is a short notice appearing at the end of the second “Letter”:

The author, Robert Howard, is a 1923 graduate of Brownwood High School who lives in Cross Plains. This, and a similar letter previously printed, were contributed on account of the personal friendship toward certain members on the staff.

Those “certain members” were no doubt Curtis and Boyles.

As the 1923-24 school year ended, big changes were in store for the Yellow Jacket. C. S. Boyles moved away to Sweetwater, Texas, and was married before the next summer appeared. Curtis, however, was reelected to the top spot on the paper and was happy to continue publishing Robert E. Howard’s work, made that much easier due to Howard’s enrollment in Howard Payne’s commercial school. Early in the new year, September 24, 1924, “Halt! Who Goes There?” appeared. This, however, is the only story to appear during the 1924-25 school year. The October 23, 1924 issue carried the news that “Editor Curtis Resigns From Yellow Jacket.” What effect this might have had on Howard’s submissions is unknown, but Howard himself “resigned” from the commercial school some time in the winter of 1924-25; he was probably thinking that he didn’t need to continue as Weird Tales had just purchased “Spear Fang” – his writing career had begun.

Of course, after a year and a half of very sluggish sales, Howard was back at the commercial school for the 1926-27 school year. “After the Game” and “Sleeping Beauty” appear in the October 27, 1926 issue; both tales appear to have been inspired by the “special train” to Waco that Howard had ridden to watch a football game. “Weekly Short Story” appears in the next issue, November 3, 1926; there is no short story in the November 10 edition.

The November 17, 1926 issue contains “For the Honor of the School” and, as mentioned above, Glenn Lord thinks this “could be” one of Howard’s. After reading the story, I’m convinced that it is. And there’s more: while preparing Sentiment: An Olio of Rarer Works for the REH Foundation Press, the untitled fragment that begins “the honor of Beffum” was discovered in Glenn Lord’s papers. This transcription was published in a Newsletter and included in Sentiment. Turns out, it’s a small part of “For the Honor of the School.” No wonder all we have is Glenn’s transcription and not a Howard typescript, Glenn must have typed it up from a copy of the Yellow Jacket.

Despite there being no short stories in the December 8th and 16th issues, “Bob Howard, Short Stories” appears at the end of an expanded Staff Box under “Feature Writers.” This adds to the argument that “For the Honor of the School” is, in fact, a Howard yarn. Besides the content and style of the yarn being very similar to other of Howard’s stories from the Yellow Jacket, the notice in the Staff Box seems to make up for the story having no byline when published in the paper.

And there’s still more. The January 6, 1927 issue has Howard’s name in the Staff Box – “Bob Howard, Short Stories” – and this time there are two stories: “His War Medals” and “The Rivals” (Note: it is not “Rivals” as listed in The Last Celt). Both of the stories are presented without a byline, but then so is most of the other material in the paper; who did what is explained in the Staff Box. “The Rivals” is the same as the Glenn Lord transcription that appeared in a Foundation Newsletter and, later, in Sentiment; Glenn probably typed up all of these stories at some point. I have no trouble believing “The Rivals” was written by Howard. And, after reading “His War Medals,” which appears to be missing a line or two at the end, I don’t think it “sounds” particularly like REH; however, since Howard is credited in the Staff Box, I think it should be added to the list of his works as well.

From the January 13, 1927 issue, which contains “The Thessalians” and “Private Magrath of the A.E.F,” to the issue for March 10, Howard’s name appears in the Staff Box. Only the January 20 (“Ye College Days”) and February 10 (“Cupid Vs. Pollux”) issues actually have a story. By March 17, his name is gone from the list. Howard is probably gone, too—home with the measles, if Post Oaks and Sand Roughs can be trusted. He doesn’t return to the Yellow Jacket until the April 21, 1927 issue which contains “The Reformation: A Dream.”  Of all the stories from the Yellow Jacket, this is the one I’m curious about. It has no byline, and Howard’s name is not mentioned in the Staff Box: Why has it been included in all the bibliographic listings when the other stories mentioned above have not? At any rate, this was Howard’s last submission. He graduated August 3, 1927 and returned to Cross Plains.

This book has been kicking around since 2006, the year it was slated to appear.  Publication has been on again and off again to the point most folks have given up on it ever seeing in print.  However, luckily for us this collection of Howardian essays is at last coming to fruition.  Editor Darrell Schweitzer posted over at the de Camp Yahoo group that publication of The Robert E. Howard Reader is imminent.  The ordering page at should be updated soon, and you can also order it from the Wildside Press website – just be patient and check in at one of those two places over the next several days.

It has been several years since a collection like this was published, the last one being Two-Gun Bob: A Centennial Study of Robert E. Howard in 2006. While the quality of some of the essays in Two-Gun Bob are below par, it is tough for these collections to live up to the likes of Don Herron’s The Dark Barbarian and The Barbaric Triumph anthologies of first-class Howard lit crit.

Here are the contents:

Introduction by Darrell Schweitzer

“Robert E. Howard: A Texan Master” by Michael Moorcock

“The Everlasting Barbarian” by Leo Grin

“Robert E. Howard’s Fiction” by L. Sprague de Camp

“The Art of Robert Ervin Howard” by Poul Anderson

“Howard’s Style” by Fritz Leiber

“What He Wrote and How They Said It” by Robert Weinberg

“Barbarism vs. Civilization” by S.T. Joshi

“Crash Go the Civilizations” by Mark Hall

“Return to Xuthal” by Charles Hoffman

“Howard’s Oriental Stories” by Don D’Ammassa

“King Kull as a Prototype of Conan” by Darrell Schweitzer

“How Pure a Puritan Was Solomon Kane?” by Robert M. Price

“Balthus of Cross Plains” by George H. Scithers

“Fictionalizing Howard” by Gary Romeo

“A Journey to Cross Plains” by Howard Waldrop

“Weird Tales and the Great Depression” by Scott Connors

“After Aquilonia and Having Left Lankhmar: Sword & Sorcery Since the 1980s” by Steve Tompkins

Looks like Darrell has something for everyone, running the gamut from de Camp to Grin.  I am looking forward to re-reading Steve Tompkins’ essay (it was  previously posted on The Cimmerian blog) – I really miss him and his thoughts and opinions.

Paul  Herman has announced November 13th as the date of a birthday party for Glenn Lord. This follows the success of last year’s birthday bash held in Houston at Tampico Seafood & Cocina Mexican. The event will be a warm-up to the big 80th birthday Glenn will be celebrating next year. More details are to come from Paul, which will be posted here and on the Glenn Lord Birthday Bash 2010 tread at the REH Forums.

About 20 people showed up for last year’s event, including Patrice Louinet and Fabrice Tortey, who made the pilgrimage all the way from France.  So if those guys can make it, so can you! However, if you just can’t attend, be sure and mail Glenn your birthday wishes to P.O. Box 775, Pasadena, TX 77501.

And wonder of wonders, Glenn has found his way onto Facebook; so that’s another option to send your birthday greetings.

UPDATE: The event will be held at the Monument Inn in Baytown, Texas. The celebration begins at 12:30 pm on Saturday, November 13th.  Please e-mail Paul Herman if you plan to attend so he can make enough reservations.

This entry filed under Glenn Lord, Howard Fandom, News.

Most fans of TGR are familiar with a piece I did back in 2006 about the corruption of the text of “Three-Bladed Doom” (short version) by fanzine editor Byron Roark.  In the mid-1970s, Roark and his partner Arnie Fenner published a handful of previously unpublished Howard stories — “Sword Woman” was one of these stories. As was the case with “Three-Bladed Doom,” I’ve discovered while comparing Howard’s typescript to the version published in REH: Lone Star Fictioneer#2, that Roark could not leave Howard’s text well enough alone – he managed to mangle “Sword Woman” to the extent it is almost a crime.

“Sword Woman,” chronologically the first Dark Agnes story, appeared in print for the first time in LSF #2, which was published in the summer of 1975.  The story next appeared about a year later in The Second Book of Robert E. Howard.  Finally, in May 1977, the Sword Woman paperback collecting all the Dark Agnes tales appeared in book stores. The story last saw print in 1986, but is returning to print next January in Del Rey’s Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures.

So unlike the case of the short version of “Three-Bladed Doom,” which languished in only Roark’s corrupted version for 33 years before finally seeing print as Howard had written it in the Del Rey paperback El Borak and Other Desert Adventures, the flawed version of “Sword Woman” was only around for a year before the true and accurate text appeared in print.

That being said, the changes Roark made to the “Sword Woman” text are far more sweeping in scope than those made to the short version of “Three-Bladed Doom.”   In that case he re-wrote the beginning and the ending of the El Borak yarn and made right at 100 changes to the text in the body of the 24,000 word story.

For “Sword Woman” Roark made more than 400 changes to Howard’s original 15,000 word text, to the extent that virtually every paragraph has at least one word changed or added, and in a lot of cases, whole sentences added, deleted or drastically changed.

The changes are so numerous I would literally have to post both versions, side by side for you to see all the differences. The following two paragraphs feature samples of the type of changes made.  First up is Howard’s original text.

Howard’s Version

I must have been senseless for some time — long enough for my father to drag me through the forest and into the village by the hair of my head. Regaining consciousness after a beating was no new experience, but I was sick and weak and dizzy, and my limbs ached from the rough ground over which he had dragged me. I was lying in our wretched hut, and when I staggered up into a sitting position, I found that my plain woolen tunic had been taken from me, and I was decked in wedding finery. By Saint Denis, the feel of it was more loathsome than the slimy touch of a serpent, and a quick panic assailed me, so I would have torn it from me; but then a giddiness and a sickness overcame me, and I sank back with a groan. And blackness deeper than that of a bruised brain sank over me, in which I saw myself caught in a trap in which I struggled in vain. All strength flowed out of me, and I would have wept if I could. But I never could weep; and now I was too crushed to curse, and I lay staring dumbly at the rat-gnawed beams of the hut.

Then I was aware that some one had entered the room. From without sounded a noise of talking and laughter, as the people gathered. The one who had come into the hut was my sister Ysabel, bearing her youngest child on her hip. She looked down at me, and I noted how bent and stooped she was, and how gnarled from toil her hands, and how lined her features from weariness and pain. The holiday garments she wore seemed to bring these things out; I had not noticed them when she wore her usual peasant woman’s attire.

Now here is the text after it was worked over by Roark — his changes are shown in red.

Roark’s Version

I must have been senseless for some time — long enough for my father to drag me through the forest and into the village by the hair of my head. Regaining consciousness after a beating was no new experience for me, but I was sick, weak, and dizzymy limbs ached from the rough ground over which he had dragged me. I was lying on the floor of our wretched hut, and when I staggered up into a sitting position, I found that my plain woolen tunic had been taken from me, and that I was decked out in wedding finery. By Saint Denis, the feel of it was more loathsome than the slimy touch of a serpent. A quick panic assailed me, so that I would have torn the foul garments away; but then a giddiness and violent sickness overcame me, reluctantly I sank back with a groan. And blackness deeper than that of a bruised brain sank over me, in which I saw myself caught in a trap in which I struggled in vain to free myself.  All strength flowed from me, and I would have wept if I could. But as ever, I could not cry; and now I was too crushed to curse, and I lay dumbly staring up at the rat-gnawed beams of the hut.

Then I was aware that some one had entered the room. From without sounded a noise of talking and laughter, as the people gathered. The one who had come into the hut was my sister Ysabel, bearing her youngest squalling brat on her hip. She looked down at me, and I noted how bent and stooped she was, and how gnarled from toil were her hands how lined her features from weariness and pain. The holiday garments she wore seemed to bring these traits to the surface; I had not noticed them when she was clothed in her usual everyday garb.

Also, in his haste to re-engineer the text, Roark proceeds to horribly confuse things, creating a number of continuity issues.  I can’t recall if I noticed all of Roark’s screw ups when I read his version of “Sword Woman” (at the time I thought it was 100% Howard), but is just a shame what he did to this wonderful Howard story. 

It seems ludicrous to me that Roark felt the need to make such wholesale changes to Howard’s text — cavalier changes that are totally unnecessary.  I have no problem with an editor correcting misspellings, making punctuation changes or even replacing a word to clarify a sentence. But damn it, don’t rewrite the story and pass it off as being “pure Howard.” In closing, let me give you one more example of Roark’s butchery:

Howard’s Version

Presently I came upon a road which wound through the forest and was glad of it, because my wedding shoon, being shoddy things, were mostly worn out.  I was accustomed to going barefoot, but even so, the briars and twigs of the forest hurt my feet.

Roark’s Version

Presently, I came upon a road which wound through the forest, and I was proud of it; because my wedding gown, being shoddy things, were all but tattered rags, and completely worn out.  I was accustomed to going barefoot, but even so, the briars and twigs hurt my feet.

Apparently our incompetent editor was unaware that “shoon” is a term that refers to shoes, specfically a pair of shoes, and is not a wedding gown; thus his revised paragraph makes no sense whatsoever.

Since Roark has seemingly fallen off the face of the Earth, I can’t ask him: “what the hell were you thinking?”  But I suspect I already know the answer – he wasn’t.

This entry filed under Howard Fandom, Howard's Fiction.

Mark Finn has taken some time out from his busy schedule to let me ask him a few questions about the new El Borak comic story he is working on for Dark Horse Comics’ Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword. Over the past decade, Mark has been one of those leading the charge to bring a new awareness of Howard as an important American author and poet.  He is currently updating and revising his 2006 biography of Howard for publication next year by the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press.

Damon:  Is the book going to be a regular monthly or bi-monthly publication or simply have a limited edition run?

Mark: The plan right now is that it will be, I think, a quarterly. The goal is to get some of the other REH characters that haven’t had comic treatments into view of the fans. So, each issue will be a little anthology of stuff.

Damon: Who is the interior artist? Cover artist?

Mark: I have no idea who the cover artist is, but the guy working on my story is some newcomer named Tim Bradstreet. I’ve seen his stuff. He’s pretty good. Maybe one day he’ll be in the big leagues. (laughs) I mean how cool is that, that I have the guy who did the Del Rey illustrations working on El Borak? I’m pretty stoked. I’ve been a fan of Tim’s for years.

Damon: This is the first effort to get Gordon into a graphic story format.  Are there any challenges you see as far as how the character will look? 

Mark: (sighs) You know, this is one of those things…for me, I absolutely adore what Jim and Ruth (Keegan) did with their El Borak concept piece. If I had had my druthers, I would want that to be the comic book El Borak look. No disrespect to Tim, because, you know, as a fan, I like his work and Thomas Jane, too. But it’s not my call. Those decisions are out of my hands. In my script, I’ve got Gordon tricked out like in the REH stories. And it’s set within the El Borak timeline. Tim uses a lot of Photo-reference, and so, unless something really weird happens, if you liked the illustrations in the Del Rey book, you’ll like his work on the comic.

Damon: Most Howard fans are used to seeing Howard’s more exotic heroes (Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, and Solomon Kane) in graphic form.  Gordon is a straight adventure guy with no sorcerers or monsters menacing him.  Do you foresee any issues with him being accepted by the fans in a comic book?

Mark: I don’t really, because there’s even a little wiggle room, if we allow the Ghuls (and they have said those are fair game). No, that’s the good thing about comics. My friend Bill Williams often says that they have an unlimited special effects budget, so a twentieth century swashbuckler is no problem for that crowd. The fact that he is so straightforward is what makes him a good leading character, I think.

Damon: I understand you are writing an original story for the first issue – can you share any details?

Mark: Well, I don’t want to give anything away, because it’s only 8 pages. But this was my charge: show the readers what makes El Borak such a bad-ass. I can tell you it’s about six and a half pages of El Borak doing what he does best: sword-fighting, shooting, riding, and in general taking care of business. In terms of the later Gordon stories, there’s only a handful to make Canon: the range of what El Borak does and can do is more implied than stated in those stories. So, I tried to do another twist on exactly the kinds of things El Borak would do in the course of his adventures. You know, it’s not El Borak making a bid for tribal warlord, or anything like that. I cleaved very closely to the REH stories. But, since it’s a comic book, too, I dropped in something that could be picked up for later, if necessary. I can tell you that this takes place about six months or so after “Hawks of the Hills.”

Now, just watch. When the book comes out, someone, probably someone we both know, will lambast me on the Conan forums: “El Borak would NEVER do those things, or talk like that!” (Laughs)

Damon: Howard wrote quite a few Gordon yarns.  Are there plans to adapt Howard’s stories?

Mark: Don’t know for sure. I think that, if Dark Horse finds a positive response to a given character from this line, that they will look at a monthly title, or a mini-series, and maybe then there will be an adaptation or two. If any of the fans like what they see, or want to see different stuff, I would encourage them to let Dark Horse know about it.

Damon: Will the book feature Jim & Ruth Keegan’s “Two-Gun Bob” strips?

Mark: Yes! And I really hope that Jim and Ruth can do a larger story with this new book. Not that I don’t want the Two-Gun Bob strips, but it’s time for them to break out a Howard adaptation of their own. You know they can do it. I’d trust them with just about anything.

Damon:  Any word on the Dark Horse’s Steve Costigan project that has been kicking around for a while?

Mark: No firm word. It’s on the list, to be developed, and they know (oh God do they all know) how much I want to do it. Me and John Lucas (who, by the way, is going to be inking the new Roy Thomas Conan book) are ready to roll. It’s just a matter of when.

 Damon: Since this is your first foray into comic writing, anything you’d care to add about this new adventure you are on?

Mark: Well, technically, it’s not. I’ve done comics before, a long, long time ago, in the early 90s. It’s been forever. So, any of those old comics you come across that I did, they are worth zillions of bucks! (laughs) Seriously, though, it’s a separate set of muscles from doing, say, prose or fiction. Comics, for all of their freedom, have a lot more structure to them, and a fairly different set of rules. So, my muscles are a little stiff from inactivity, but once I got my layouts drawn for the script, I was back in the zone. It’s been fun. I’m excited to do more work for Dark Horse in this capacity.

Damon: Thank you for your time, Mark.  I know everyone in Howardom wishes you the best with the new comic and your other projects.  Be sure and keep us posted on the book’s progress.

Mark: Thank you and I will.

Howard’s Texas was  filled with a variety of creatures running the gambit from rattlesnakes to armadillos to scorpions to the dreaded red ants. He wrote often of these denizens of the west in his letters, embellishing the facts as he was wont to do, making everything seem larger than life.  This was a myth that was easy to perpetrate — folks from other parts of the country already believed everything was bigger and more dangerous in Texas.  Does anyone remember those old postcards with the cowboy riding the giant jackrabbit?

In Eastland, just down the road a bit from where Howard lived, an event took place in 1928 that amazed the state and the country, further advancing those myths about Texas. While Howard only lived a short distance from Eastland, he made no mention of this event in his letters. However, it is possible that he knew about the amazing survival of a famed horned toad through local newspaper coverage, as well as the story’s appearance in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” column and on newsreels shown in movie theaters across the land.

Our story begins in 1897 when construction started on a new county courthouse in Eastland. The local citizens prepared a time capsule for placement in the new building’s cornerstone and among the items placed and sealed in the container was a live horned toad (well, it was actually a horned lizard).  This was pre-PETA, so no one was concerned about suffocating the tiny critter.

In February of 1928, when it was time to build a spiffy new Art Deco courthouse to replace the one built in 1897, the time capsule was opened and viola, the horned toad was still alive.  The three thousand people who gathered to witness the opening of the time capsule must have gasped in amazement at the curious sight of the wriggling little lizard held high by the county judge. The locals promptly named the toad “Old Rip” (for Rip Van Winkle).

Some folks were quick to call this minor miracle a hoax, but a local professor weighed in on how Old Rip might have survived in the cornerstone for 31 years:

“I do not know all the facts in the Eastland story,” wrote professor Sam McInnis of Brownwood’s Daniel Baker College. “From what I know about the story I think that it is true, because the frog was entombed in sand and rock, and it is possible for moisture and oxygen to pass through the rock and reach the frog, and sustain life for an indefinite period of time.”

As mentioned above, the creatures that inhabited the countryside around Cross Plains were topics Howard wrote about in his letters. Such was the case in a July 1935 letter to August Derleth where he recounted his encounters with various kinds of ants:

In this country, though, an ant’s worst foe is the horned toad, who squats in the [ant] bed, impervious to bites and stings and laps them up as a horned dinosaur would have lapped up prehistoric humans, had they been contemporaries.

This passage is Howard’s tribute to the horned toad’s tenacity and resilience, the same traits Old Rip had to possess to survive entombed for 31 years while others of his species lived five to ten years. 

Soon Old Rip achieved nationwide, Paris Hilton-like celebrity status when some of the local town folk took him on a tour of the nation that included a stop in Washington D.C. to meet President Calvin Coolidge.

After touring the country, Old Rip retired to his hometown of Eastland and moved into the home of a local family, occupying a fishbowl in the front room where he was doted on by neighborhood children who caught red ants by the bushel for him.

On January 19, 1929, a Blue Norther swept through Eastland and Old Rip froze to death in his unheated room while his human companions slept under piles of blankets in their bedrooms. His tiny lungs had filled with fluid, with the official cause of death being ruled pneumonia. Eastland and indeed the entire nation mourned  his passing.  His small body was preserved by a taxidermist and he was placed in a tiny, custom made casket.  A marble base for the coffin was also donated to the cause and Old Rip was placed on display in the new county courthouse.

In 1962 while running for governor, John Connally showed up for a photo op with Eastland’s most famous citizen, but quickly raised the ire of the townspeople when he accidently tore off one of Old Rip’s hind legs while handling him.  Despite this major faux pas, Connally was elected governor of Texas that year.

Old Rip, it seemed, was not destined to rest in peace — in 1973 he was stolen. An anonymous toad-napper wrote a letter explaining that his conscience would not let him remain silent any longer. The dastardly perpetrator claimed to be part of a large conspiracy that had hoaxed the nation with Old Rip. He demanded that his accomplices join him in a full confession.

However, when no one stepped forward to join him in the confession, another letter arrived saying that Old Rip could be found in his coffin at the county fairgrounds. The coffin and its famous occupant were recovered. More skullduggery was afoot when locals suspected the Old Rip returned was not the original Old Rip but an impostor. Eastland County Judge Scott Bailey was quoted as saying: “This toad is fairly well-preserved. The other was more … mummified.” Whoever he was, the found Old Rip was returned to his place of honor where the legendary horned toad lies in state to this day in the Eastland County Courthouse.

As an epilogue to this tale of the toad, in 1955 famed Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones, along with scriptwriter Michael Maltese, were inspired by the legend of Old Rip and created “One Froggy Evening.” The cartoon tells the story of a frog who is freed from a cornerstone and sings ragtime jazz when no one is watching. The frog character in that animated feature evolved on to one Michigan J. Frog, who later became the mascot for the Warner Brothers Television Network.

You can watch a short segment from the Texas Parks and Wildlife that tells the story of Old Rip on You Tube.

And, of course, it would not be Texas without a festival celebrating the life of Old Rip.

This entry filed under August Derleth, Howard's Texas.


Brownwood High School’s student newspaper, The Tattler, holds the distinction of being the first publication to print the work of Robert E. Howard—the first that we know of, anyway. Readers of the December 22, 1922 issue received a double shot: “West Is West” and “‘Golden Hope’ Christmas.” According to an editorial in the preceding issue—November 24, 1922—the Christmas number was going to be something special:

Begin saving your stray pennies now, students, for that big Christmas number of The Tattler which will surpass anything you have ever seen in the way of a High School Christmas edition. There will be from ten to sixteen pages of interesting, snappy, Christmas stories, articles, poems, etc., and it will furnish you enough good reading to last during the entire holidays. You will always regret it if you miss this big number. Some nifty surprises await you in this monster edition which will be off the press on December 22nd.

Unfortunately, miss it we have; other than the pages with Howard’s work, this edition appears to be lost. A shame, really, especially in light of the following, from the community paper, The Brownwood Bulletin:

The current number of “The Tattler” issued yesterday, is a big special holiday edition of 12 pages, in periodical form, and contains in addition to the usual news of student activities a large quantity of special Christmas matter that is both timely and interesting.

While it is unfortunate that the bulk of that issue appears to be lost (probably bagged and tagged in some collector’s vault), we can at least say with certainty when those stories were published: the date—December 22, 1922—appears at the top of each page containing Howard’s work. This is not true for some of the other items published in The Tattler.

Up until very recently, copies of the actual pages from The Tattler were difficult to obtain. Glenn Lord had received at least some copies as early as 1962, since “West Is West” showed up in The Howard Collector that autumn. Another tale from The Tattler, “Aha! Or the Mystery of the Queen’s Necklace,” appeared in 1963. Two more Tattler items appeared in the ’70s, but it was not until The “New” Howard Reader, published by Joe Marek in the 1990s, that all of The Tattler yarns had been reprinted.

So, where did all these copies come from? In Costigan #13, Glenn Lord’s contribution to REHupa mailing #21 (May 1976), Lord explains that there “is no known file of The Tattler; the only copies known to exist belong to Tevis Clyde Smith and thus we are indebted to him for preserving his copies.”  As all collectors know, newspaper doesn’t age well, so while we are truly indebted to Smith for a variety of things, we also owe Glenn Lord a debt of gratitude for finding those papers before they crumbled to dust.

Not that we need to verify that Smith’s are the only copies that remain, but if we did, we’d only have to look at one story. “The Sheik,” as published everywhere after March 15, 1923, is missing a little hunk of text. Tevis Clyde Smith’s copy of the March 15th number is missing two short lines at the bottom of one column of newsprint that just happens to be the same text missing from all the reprints.

Anyway, Glenn received copies of the stories, probably with a list of publication dates, and ran them in The Last Celt. Those dates were repeated in The Neverending Hunt and at Howard Works—and why not? The information came from the only person who actually had copies to get the information from in the first place. Well, it turns out a couple of those dates are wrong.

When the Robert E. Howard Foundation was informed that Tevis Clyde Smith’s papers had wound up at Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, to say we were excited doesn’t do the feeling justice. Besides the actual letters Robert E. Howard had written to Smith, there were piles of other material: rare books, fanzines . . . newspapers.

I’ve had copies of the tales from The Tattler for years—faded, blotchy, third or fourth or maybe even tenth generation copies. Having the opportunity to acquire shots made from the original was a dream come true. About a week after I requested them, the copies arrived. Ah, glorious high school newspapers. Then, while making notes on what I’d received (yes, I take notes on everything), I noticed the discrepancy.

Every list I’ve got says that “Unhand Me, Villain!” first appeared in the February 15, 1923 issue of The Tattler. But here in my hot little hands were copies of that paper and the story I was looking at was “Aha! Or the Mystery of the Queen’s Necklace,” not the former title. A quick check of the March 1, 1923 issue, where I was used to seeing “Aha,” revealed “Unhand Me, Villain!” instead. But there was a problem: none of the pages in question had dates on them; it was entirely possible that the sheets had been mismatched at some point, that someone had inadvertently put the story pages back in the wrong newspapers.

Luckily (and I know you’re all holding your breath out there; these bibliographic details are like manna from Olympus!), luckily, I say, the back side of “Aha” contains the clue that verified the dates. If “Aha” had been published in the March 1st issue, why in the world would it be advertising an upcoming Washington’s birthday event on the back side of the page? Washington’s birthday, as we all know, is in February.

Finally, to put any doubt to rest, in REHupa mailing #121 (June 1993), Tom Munnerlyn reprinted both “Aha” and “Unhand Me” (Austin vol. 4, no. 1). Munnerlyn is the guy who ended up with Smith’s material and eventually donated it to A&M. As the second guy with access to those papers, Munnerlyn got the dates right: “Aha” in February, “Unhand Me” in March.

Hmm, what else is in these newspapers?