Archive for the 'Sword & Sorcery' Category

conan01

Like many Howard fans, I was first introduced to his lusty characters through Marvel comics. Piggy-backing on the success of Lancer’s paperbacks, Marvel launched the four-color Conan in 1970. It ushered in a comics phenomenon that continues until today, almost half a century later. Let’s look at some of the highlights of Howard’s comics career, starting with Conan and Kull.

I think it is significant that Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian was released in 1970, a watershed year, heralding the end of the Sixties and the love and peace generation. The black-maned barbarian may have worn his hair long, but nobody would’ve mistaken him for a pacifistic flower child. Here was a red-blooded, assertive hero for a new era in which the disillusionment of Vietnam seeped into pop culture, spawning a generation of amoral anti-heroes. Eschewing garish, day-glo spandex and traditional heroic virtues, Conan anticipated the punk movement, which swept away the last vestiges of the love generation. He was a Hyborian Sid Vicious avant la lettre with a broadsword.

First Exposure

Naturally, I didn’t realize any of that when I first came across the character on the cover of CtB #4 on a newsstand in Melbourne in the early Seventies. I was about nine years old and a loyal Marvelite and superhero devotee. I recognized the Marvel logo, but who was this bare-chested, helmeted lout masquerading as a hero? I didn’t know and I wasn’t interested despite the pulp allure of the giant spider and the scantily-clad damsel in distress. It all seemed a bit seedy and steamy. Being a good little Catholic, I was more interested in wholesome Peter Parker and his virginal sweetheart Gwen Stacy. So, I passed on the classic “Tower of the Elephant,” a decision that was to haunt me for many a year. Ah, the sins of youth.

Green Empress of Melniboné

I wouldn’t become a full-blown Conan fan for another year or two with issues 14 and 15. At the time, I was really enjoying Barry Smith’s short run on the Avengers. Issues 98 and 99 had already come out and I was looking forward to issue 100 with all the anticipation a pre-pubescent boy can summon (and that’s plenty). One fateful afternoon, I found my big brother lounging on the living room couch reading his latest acquisitions. Even upside down, I recognized Smith’s distinctive style, but I mistakenly thought it was the eagerly-anticipated Avengers #100. Little did I realize it at the time that it was something even better. Due to the unpredictable vicissitudes of comic distribution in Australia in the early 70s, my brother had managed to snag issues 14 and 15 of Conan. It was a rip-roaring double-parter pitting Conan and Elric of Melniboné against the evil sorcerer Zukala and the Green Empress of Melniboné. I had never read anything quite as enthralling and exciting, nor seen art as mesmerising and visceral, marrying an ornate grace with an almost operatic sturm-und-drang. It made me a fan of Conan and Barry Smith for life.

Kull Cometh

My next introduction to the Howard’s creations and the sword and sorcery genre came shortly after. I’m not completely sure of the chronology, so forgive me if I play loose and fast with history. My brother had come home with another treasure; Monsters on the Prowl #16 featuring Kull the Conqueror. He looked vaguely like Conan, but the artwork was clearly not Smith, which was a bit of a let-down initially. This was actually Kull’s fourth Marvel appearance. He had debuted a bit earlier in Creatures on the Loose #10 in a story by none other than Berni Wrightson in a story called “The Skull of Silence.” It is a beautifully illustrated tale and the young Wrightson does himself proud. It was probably better than what Smith was doing on Conan at the same time. It would be years, however, before I would ever lay eyes on that masterpiece. Kull then premiered in his eponymous mag, illustrated by the unlikely and miss-matched team of Ross Andru and Wally Wood.

Severin Heaven

Issue 2 of Kull the Conqueror saw the debut of the mag’s regular artistic team consisting of the siblings Marie and John Severin. They would go onto craft a wonderful 10-issue run on the mag, which is among the highlights of sword & sorcery comics. It took me a little while to get used to the Severins’ artwork compared to Smith’s, but once I made the mindshift, I loved their work almost equally. John Severin’s meticulous inks lent the mag a classic look that owed more to Harold Foster’s Prince Valiant than to Smith, who was then writing the book on sword and sorcery comics. Severin’s take is more traditional and less visceral than Smith’s, but it has a timeless, illustrative quality that easily makes it stand the test of time. Monsters on the Prowl (MotP) #16 with its fetid swamps, leviathans and serpent men sent thrills and chills down my spine. Until this day I still remember with a shudder the scene in which a young guardsman begs Kull to kill him before he comes under the thrall of the loathsome serpent men. The noble Kull honors his request without hesitation. This was a different kind of hero than your average Marvel adventurer.

kull

A Phantasmagorical Feast

My next big Howard thrill came with Kull #3, which takes place after right after Monsters on the Prowl #16. The story pits Kull and his faithful companion Brule the Spearslayer against the evil necromancer, Thulsa Doom.

kull1

An epic battle unfolds, in which the barbarian king confronts skeletal horses, demons, goblins and all kinds of other horrors conjured up by Doom. Kull eventually wins the mismatched battle through a combination of sheer grit, tenacity and valor. The Severins turned in a beautiful job and the issue is a phantasmagorical visual feast, the likes of which had never been witnessed in comics before. This was real sword and sorcery. Both issues were superbly scripted by Roy Thomas, but issue 3 was his last issue for the nonce. The Severins went on produce another seven issues of Kull with various writers. They were all beautiful to behold and provide good solid, sword and sorcery thrills, but they never again reached the pinnacle of MotP #16 and Kull #3 with Roy at the writing helm.

“The Black Hound of Vengeance”

My next encounter with Smith’s Conan came a few months later, when I stumbled across a copy of issue 20 while visiting my father’s work in the heart of Melbourne. It was another mind-blowing mag and until this day “The Black Hound of Vengeance” remains my second favorite issue of Smith’s color run on Conan and among my most cherished sword & sorcery comics ever. Within the span of mere two years, Smith had developed into a masterful storyteller, producing seamless visual narratives. The pacing and staging was incredible as Smith masterfully manipulated the reader, just as the evil sorcerer of besieged Makkelet, Kharim Azar, sends Conan scurrying like a scared rat through his labyrinth of mirrors, pulling his strings like a master puppeteer. This imagery is further enhanced by the image of a puppet with severed strings in the bottom panel of page 19.

conan

These kinds of subtle visual cues showed Smith’s complete mastery of his craft, even at such a young age. Of course, I had no idea why Smith’s work had such a powerful impact on me. All I knew is I wanted more, which led me on a year’s long search for back issues.

Meteoric Rise

The great joy of Barry Smith’s meteoric rise to fame on Conan is tracing his rapid evolution from a faux Kirby on Conan #1 to a consummate comics artist with a distinctive style all his own. Smith’s unique combination of cinematic story-telling with an unerring eye for decorative detail, presented comic readers with “an age undreamed of.” To be honest, you had to be a veritable Oracle of Delphi to predict his later greatness based on issue 1, but he progressed by leaps and bounds, producing a certifiable comics classic with the aforementioned “Tower of the Elephant.” Issue 4 is universally acclaimed as Smith’s first great work and it is a fine comic, but as far as I’m concerned Smith’s first real masterpiece is Conan #7; “The God in the Bowl.” This probably has something to do with Dan Adkins doing part of the inks.

Seeds of Greatness

Smith quickly went from strength to strength, developing at an amazing rate under the constant deadline pressures. You see his decorative style slowly emerge under Sal Buscema’s overpowering inks and his storytelling prowess improves with leaps and bounds. Smith reached his peak when he found an inker more sensitive to his pencils like Dan Adkins. Outside of his self-inked work, Smith produced his best material on Conan with the assistance of Adkins. Sadly they only did a handful of issues together.

During his short tenure on Conan, Smith actually produced his best work on the b&w mags, where free of tight deadlines, he was allowed more time to give free rein to his imagination and to ink his own work. His first b&w tale was The Frost Giant’s Daughter for Savage Tales (ST) #1, followed shortly after by the amazing Dweller in the Dark, which bears all the seeds of latter-day Smith’s greatness; ornateness, opulence, decadence, sensuality and hair-trigger violence.

Smith Sees Red

Smith’s evolving style is often mistakenly described as art noveau, but it owes more to the romantic, illustrative style of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood than the more decorative work of Beardsley and Mucha. This style reached its peak in on Ctb #24; The Song of Red Sonja and his epic two-part adaptation of Red Nails in ST 2 & 3. Red Sonja was Smith’s swansong on CtB and a fine tune it was. He went all out on the issue, inking and coloring it himself. It’s an exquisitely rendered tale full of lusty, red-blooded action, as Conan allows the eponymous Red Sonja to let his loins do his thinking for him.

The story contains some of most subtly sensual imagery in comics up until then. Despite Smith’s delicate handling, Marvel still felt it necessary to move Conan’s hands from under the water’s surface, where they were having a party and place them demurely on the small of Sonja’s back. Smith certainly went out in style, but he would return for an encore and what an encore it was.

 

Farewell Fab Barry

With Red Nails, Smith’s comics career reached its absolute zenith. It’s his Abbey Road. Like the Fab Four, Smith’s talents developed at an unprecedented pace. Compare the bubblegum pop of Please, Please Me to the sublime song-smithing on Abbey Road. The difference is light years apart and not a mere 8 years. Now compare CtB #1 with Red Nails, a mere three years later. There is a quantum leap in quality. As if sensing it would be his final word on the character he helped catapult to iconic status, Smith pulled out all the stop, leisurely pacing the story and even adopting a new, lush inking style, perfectly utilizing the b&w medium. Rarely had the comics medium witnessed such finely-wrought, fully-conceived, evocative imagery. The result is a visual cornucopia of vivid images that etch themselves into the reader’s minds-eye like those catchy Beatles song, lingering long after the final page has been turned on. And thus the book closed on Smith’s Conan career, ending an era in the mag’s history.

The Common Denominator

The common denominator in most of these stories is writer Roy Thomas, who ensured Howard was first adapted into comics and who skilfully shepherded his various creations for more than a decade. Thomas deserves a great deal of credit for his masterful work on Howard’s properties, displaying a clear understanding of their characters and respect for them. He also did a fine job of translating Howard’s prose and ethos to comics, presenting a much more faithful version than most of Howard’s prose pastichers. Doug Moench wrote some decent material on Kull, as did Alan Zelenetz, but when it came to Marvel, nobody wrote better sword and sorcery than Roy.

End of part one. In part two; Barbarians in Full Color B&W, David takes a look at more Howardian highlights in comics, including the Thomas/Buscema era on Ctb and Savage Sword of Conan, Mike Ploog on Kull, Frank Brunner’s only Conan classic and Solomon Kane’s storied comics career.

mdj_kenkelly_9

Writers such as Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner, and even J.R.R. Tolkien laid the groundwork for a modern literary genre that is often called Sword and Sorcery, but which might better be called “Heroic Fantasy.” These authors established the broad tropes of the genre for today’s times, but we must recognize that this type of heroic storytelling dates far back in history, to the time of Homer and, even earlier, to the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Heroic fantasy is, and always has been, a literature of myth making and myth exploration. As such, it may well be the most important type of literature ever attempted. The tales in this genre are not about telling things the way they are, or even how they were. They’re about telling, or at least hinting at, the deepest mysteries and truths of human existence.

At their core, the themes of heroic fantasy arise out of ancient days, out of a time thousands and even hundreds of thousands of years ago when human consciousness was first struggling into existence, and when we as a race were becoming something more, and less, than animal. In those days the gods and demons and all manner of supernatural beings were real–at least to the people of those times–more real than they can ever be to modern “sophisticated” humans.

Despite what Robert E. Howard once wrote in The Nemedian Chronicles, heroic fantasy is not about “an age undreamed of.” In symbols, at least, we have all dreamt of such an age. Although most elements from the personality theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung have not held up well under the microscope of modern psychological analysis, these authors’ concepts about symbolism and the origins of human thought bear considering for anyone who is interested in literary traditions. (Today, Freud and Jung are actually more influential in the study of literature than in psychology.)

For both Freud and Jung, human prehistory was a time when the seeds of later myths, and of many later truths, were being planted. I believe they are right, though not always for the reasons they suggested. Biologically, modern humans are not very different from the first fully modern Homo sapiens of 200,000 years ago. Brain size and overall brain architecture appear to have remained largely unchanged from then until today, although small scale changes in brain structure are likely to have occurred throughout that time. We know that cultural complexity began to grow rapidly after about 50,000 years ago and subtle reorganizations of the brain might account for that.

But whether we speak of 200,000 year old sapiens or 50,000 year old ones, the fact remains that our mind is their mind, with a lot of culture and a little bit of rational science as icing on the cake. Both the roots and the trunks of our myths, and our realities, arise from the ways that early Homo sapiens tried to understand their mysterious and dangerous world. They told stories to explain their experiences. And those stories have passed down to us as myths. Heroic fantasy is the closest thing we have to modern mythmaking in the great human tradition.

Storytelling is how we all make sense of our world. And despite Heroic Fantasy’s critics, who sometimes refer to it as “juvenile” literature, no other form of modern storytelling does so much to explore the way that humans became human.

This entry filed under Howard Fandom, Howard's Fiction, Sword & Sorcery.

2After participating in the Howard Days panel about the Lancer Conan series,  I realized quite a few are interested in Lancer Books and the later Zebra Books. The presentation (and my previous article) concentrated on Frazetta’s influence, but now let’s talk a little more about Irwin Stein and Walter Zacharius, the founders of Lancer Books.

Irwin Stein had a journalist background but had an affinity for comic books and science fiction. He wrote for Quality Comics (chiefly known for Jack Cole’s Plastic Man) and later the romance comics line for St. John. When he left comic books to start his own company, Royal Publications, he published genre magazines (men’s adventures, detective, SF, monsters).

4Stein and Zacharime partners somewhere along the line. They formed Magnum Communications Corporation. One of their first purchases was Swank Magazine. Martin Goodman (Timely/Atlas/Marvel) was the owner at that time. Swank had a reputation as a quality men’s magazine. Aficionados of these things say the quality took a slightly downward slide after their takeover. Magnum Publications include Untamed, Lion Adventures and True War.

They then started Lancer Books in 1961. Later Stein hired Larry Shaw as editor. Shaw was instrumental in acquiring the Conan series and in getting Frazetta to illustrate the first cover. Mr. Shaw was honored with a special Hugo Award for lifetime achievement in 1984, a year before his death.

The early Lancer books had a distinctive green (often bluish looking) edge around the pages. 1962 saw the start of the Lancer Science Fiction Library. These sold for 75 cents at a time when most paperbacks were only 50 cents. Lancer realized they were pitching to a specialty market that would pay a premium. In 1966 they began publishing paperback originals with the purple colored edges. One notable entry was Michael Moorcock (writing as Edward P. Bradbury) doing a Martian series that owed a great deal to Edgar Rice Burroughs.

For Robert E. Howard fans, the key year was 1966, and the publication of Conan the Adventurer.  There is no need to rehash that story again; suffice to say everyone knew that the Frazetta cover was a smash!

Stein in an interview, from Confessions, Romances, Secrets, and Temptations: Archer St. John and the St. John Romance Comics by John Benson, talks about that first Conan painting:

Yes, those covers really put him on the map, I think. He was known mostly to the fans at the time. I tried to keep one of the paintings, and he threatened to come up with a gun. Well, most of the cover artists, if you said you liked something, they’d say, “Keep it.”  What the hell, they had very little residual value at the time. But Frazetta always had a huge sense of his own worth. And rightfully so. Generally, there were very few that I really wanted to keep for myself. But that was one of them, and I asked him for it.

In 1968 they reissued Conan the Adventurer and issued Conan the Wanderer at 95 cents. From the fanzine, Megavore, which featured a Lancer SF Checklist in their 10th issue comes this comment:

It tells you something about the popularity of the series that Lancer could jump the price so rapidly and not have to worry about the effect it would have on sales.

capture

Lancer was doing well and besides the Conan books published Howard’s King Kull, The Dark Man and Others, and Wolfshead. Larry Shaw left Lancer in 1968. He was replaced by Robert Hoskins. Hoskins, apparently a fan of S&S, edited an anthology Swords Against Tomorrow for Signet Books that mentions REH as a literary descendant of Homer.

conan-the-adventuer11971 saw the change from purple edges to yellow and 1973 brought with it the bankruptcy.

The details of the bankruptcy can probably be found with enough patience and access to legal archives but suffice to say Lancer Books was no more. Magnum Communications Corporation continued on with various publishing ventures and at least three other non-publishing ventures: Vacation Ownership Marketing; Capital Solutions I, and Fuda Faucet Works.

Gerald Jones in Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book tells the story of Harry Donnenfeld. Donnenfeld started National (DC) comics. Donnenfeld apparently had ties to gangster Frank Costello. New York publishers bought a lot of paper shipped from Canada. Canada was in full liquor production during the failed U.S. experiment of prohibition. Along with shipments of paper there was plenty of booze. So pretty much all publishers of exploitation literature (comics, pornography, and men’s adventures) have rumors of mob money.

3As mentioned before Stein and Zacharius purchased Swank from Martin Goodman (of Marvel Comics fame) and Stein worked for various comic book companies. So, yes, they traveled in the same circles as Donnenfeld and others that might have had mob ties. No doubt pornography publishing makes strange bedfellows, but no real evidence of organized crime exists. There was the occasional article in the SFWA Bulletin newsletter about Lancer not paying royalties and offering lame excuses and after the Lancer bankruptcy their remaining publishing arm, Magnum Books, republished books from the Lancer catalog that were in violation of previous contracts. So there were shady-doings but nothing that other publishers had not set as a precedent.

After the Lancer bankruptcy Walter Zacharius chose to start the Kensington Publishing Corporation (which included Zebra Books) with a new partner, Roberta Grossman. Apparently there was a falling out with Stein but other than a very brief mention in Publishing Romance: The History of an Industry, 1940s to the Present by John Markert not much has been said.

444

Zebra Books published 14 REH books:

  1. The Sowers of the Thunder
  2. Tigers of the Sea
  3. Worms of the Earth
  4. A Gent From Bear Creek
  5. The Vultures of Whapeton
  6. The Incredible Adventures of Dennis Dorgan
  7. The Lost Valley of Iskander
  8. The Iron Man
  9. The Book of Robert E. Howard
  10. The Second Book of Robert E. Howard
  11. Pigeons From Hell
  12. Black Vulmea’s Vengeance
  13. The Sword Woman
  14. Three Bladed Doom

According to Leon Nielsen in Robert E. Howard: A Collector’s Descriptive Bibliography:

[the] books were selling so well that Zebra capitalized on its success by adding the line, “Heroic fantasy in the tradition of ROBERT E. HOWARD” to the front cover of any book that might fit loosely into the category of heroic fantasy.

Second only to Frazetta as a fan favorite, most of the REH Zebra books featured art by Jeff Jones. Even the most conservative REH fan would probably let Jeff Jones go to the public restroom of his choosing.

Jeff Jones was a troubled fellow with loads of artistic talent. If Frazetta was power, then Jones was poetry. I think it is possible he could surpass Frank Frazetta as a REH fan favorite one day. His best work is breathtaking if not always true to the story.

Walter Zacharius was always an innovator. Early in his career he helped start the Ace Double Novel line (along with Aaron Wyn), and with Kensington he signed deals with Wal-Mart and QVC, and made the first forays into e-books.

One of his more exploitative tricks was during the height of Lee Iacocca’s success with the automobile corporation, Chrysler. Iacocca was popularly known as an innovative entrepreneur (there was talk of him running for President, as if Americans would vote for someone with no political experience!). He had a best-selling autobiography eating up the sales chart. Zacharius republished a previously little read paperback with the same title and it ended up as one of the best selling paperbacks of 1985.

Even with his other successes the Lancer Conan series was a hallmark. His New York Times obituary had this to say in summing up his accomplishments:

With Irwin Stein, he founded Lancer Books in 1961 to publish genre fiction, primarily science fiction and fantasy, notably the “Conan the Barbarian” stories of Robert E. Howard…

The New York Times knew “those were books!”

conan2320-bws-e11461952865252

The Sword-Lore of Robert E. Howard

Mighty-thewed mape-limbed, in the world-dawn haze
For I was a sword-smith in those old, gold days,
Early in the morning, how my sledge would clang!
Through the sapphire evening how the red sparks sprang!
How my hammer boomed on bronze hilt and shaft!
How the anvil clashed, and the forge, how it laughed.
Glowing through the dusk of the whispering night,
Beating up the morning with its rose-red light!
But Zeus! How I labored! And Jove! How I sweat!
And I grumbled o’er my anvil with a fume and a fret.
For I rose at the dawn and I labored like a slave
For nobles that cursed me for a fool and a knave;
Until late at night and to my hut I’d gone,
To rise again, to toil again with the coming of the dawn.

— Robert E. Howard, “Arcadian Days” (CL1.108)

There are no books specifically on swords, the history of weapons, fencing or military manuals in Bob Howard’s library, nor does he mention any in his letters or fiction. Most of the Texan’s knowledge of the history and development of weapons would appear to come from general history texts, and for all of his keen interest he seems to have had somewhat sketchy and patchwork technical knowledge. An essay, “The Sword” published in Howard’s amateur magazine The Golden Caliph (1923), collects many of his early thoughts on the subject, and begins with a brief statement on the development of the weapon:

The term “sword”, is about as general as the term “gun”. When one says “sword”, one may mean a rapier, a saber, a broad-sword, a cutlass, a scimetar [sic.], anything with a long blade and a hilt.

The sword has been man’s favorite weapon. I tis a natural production of evolution, combining dagger and spear. Man’s first cutting and thrusting weapon was, of course, the knife. Almost simultaneously came the spear. Man saw the disadvantage of a knife in fighting. He was forced to get too close to his enemy in order to use a dagger. And if the enemy had talons or even another knife, he found himself on equal footing with his antagonist. And mans natural inclination is to gain an advantage over his foe, whoever or whatever tha [sic.] foe might be. Thus, the spear. But the spear is a clumsy weapon at close-quarters and if the point is broken it becomes no more than a stick. Hence the idea of lenthening [sic.] the dagger into spear-lenth [sic.]. (LC 378)

Howard’s reasoning is basically correct, in that the dagger and spear preceded the creation of the sword, and the sword developed out of the dagger, though he misses both the general techniques of fighting with a spear and the technical developments in metal-working that led to the development of longer blades, with larger daggers eventually becoming short swords in the Bronze Age. That swords were once made of bronze and later of iron and steel, Howard was at least aware:

[…] Caesar found the Britons still using swords of copper and bronze. If, as some historians maintain, bronze using Gaels preceded and fled before Brythons wielding iron swords, it seems to me that the Britons should have opposed the Romans with weapons of the latter metal. (CL2.52)

He also seemed to be aware of the reputation of Toledo steel. (CL2.417) The form of a sword is a product of its historical context, with specific forms evolving as both technology and method of use change, and certain forms became associated with different cultures. This, Howard recognized very well:

There are almost as many kinds of swords as there are tribes of men.

One rule had held through the ages. The West has always used a straight, thrusting sword, and the East has always used a curved, slashing sword.

At least, the Orient has always used swords that would hack better than they would thrust. The swords have not always been curved.

There are, of course, exceptions. The Tauregs [sic.] use straight-bladed swords, supposedly having adopted them from the Crusaders. (LC 378)

spada2When parsed, Howard is essentially asserting that form follows function, with European swords primarily intended to thrust, while Asian swords were intended primarily to cut (although he points out the Tuareg takoba as an exception). This is not attested to historically—swords in all parts of the world, and in all periods, have seen different abilities to both cut and thrust, with some blades being more specialized in one aspect than another. What Howard recognized is that blades designed primarily for the thrust are straight, to put the power of the blow into the point, and in cases like the United States M1913 cavalry sword, are specialized to the point that cutting ability is compromised. Similarly, more curved blades are generally more specialized for cutting, such as the US M1860 cavalry saber, which concentrates the blow on the edge to bite and slice into the target, but is less effective at thrusting, since the force cannot travel in a straight line to the point. Howard would later expand on this idea in a letter to Lovecraft:

Speaking of the contrast between Nordic and Latin knifeplay: I don’t know whether the slashing habit is an Indian or a Spanish instinct. If Spanish, it may be a survival of Moorish influence. As of course you know, the Oriental nations favor curved blades, and generally slash instead of thrusting. The early Nordic warriors hacked too, but they used straight swords, depending on the weight of the blade and the force of the blow, whereas the Orientals curved the blade to gain the effect. But the early Greeks and the Romans understood the art of thrusting, as witness their short swords. And the rapier was created in the West. I am not prepared to say whether the Spaniards borrowed any ideas or weapons and their use from the Moors, but I will say that Mexican swords are generally more curved than those used by Americans. I noted this recently during a trip to the battlefield of Goliad where Fannin and his men were trapped by the Mexican army. I saw two sabers — a Mexican arm and an American — both of which were used in that battle. The Mexican sword was curved far more than the Texan weapon — in fact, it would be almost impossible to thrust effectively with it. Blade, hilt and guard were all made in one piece of steel, and I could hardly get my hand inside the guard to clutch the hilt; some grandee wielded it, no doubt, some proud don with blue blood and small aristocratic hands — well, I hope he got his before Fannin surrendered, and gasped his life out in the mud of Perdido with a Texas rifle-ball through him. (CL2.234-235, cf.217)

Museums such as the one at Goliad would have provided Howard with some of his best opportunities to see weapons with his own eyes, and to understand them in something of their original context. The comparison of Mexican and American sabers from the Goliad Campaign (1836) is fairly accurate; the Mexican officer’s saber of the army of Santa Anna was heavy curved, based on the then-fashionable “mameluke” style swords of Europe which flourished after the French invasion of Egypt, particularly in hussar (light cavalry) regiments, and were styled after the Mamluks scimitars (sometimes scimetar or simitar in older sources, Howard uses all three spellings).

It’s notable that Howard was able to distinguish “blade, hilt, and guard”—the basic elements of the sword—although he was almost certainly incorrect that they were “all made in one piece of steel,” the guard and knucklebow of the Mexican officer’s saber is of one piece and connects with the pommel, and could have been made of steel, so might have given the Texan that impression. Howard expands on the parts of the sword in discussing European weapons:

The West has always been partial to straight-swords. Witness the Roman swords, the broad-sword and the rapier. Even the Scottish claymore, which was probably used more for cutting and hacking than any other Western sword, was straight. It was double-edged, with a heavy guard and, contrary to public notions, did not have a basket hilt.

The cutlass, a rather clumsy weapon, was broad-bladed and curved, and of late years the nation of the West have adopted a slightly curved sabre for cavalry use. It is straight enough to thrust with, but it is self-evident that a curved weapon is better for cavalry use. (LC 378)

The ancient Roman gladius is usually depicted as primarily a stabbing weapon, which was relatively short (50-60 cm/19.5-23.5 in) with a long tapering point, and used very effectively with a shield in tight formation. It gave way in the 1st century AD to the spatha, which was longer and with a shorter point, more specialized for slashing and cutting; Howard is apparently thinking of the gladius.

The term broad-sword has been applied to many styles of blade, but in this context appears to refer to wide-bladed, double-edged swords which developed in the Middle Ages, the “knightly sword” with its crossguard and pommel, straight and tapering to a point.

The rapier is a specialized dueling weapon that developed in the 1400s, and the blade became longer and narrower (and thus, more suitable for thrusting) as it developed, with a more elaborate guard and hilt. Howard would go on to say of the rapier:

For duels and many fights, the rapier was the most effective weapon ever invented, a sword with a long, slim blade, sometimes with no edge at all, sometimes with one, two, three, or even four edges. But in battles, where the fighting is hand to hand, the rapier yeilds [sic.] place to the broad-sword or scimetar [sic.]. (LC 378-379)

The “one, two, three, or even four edges” refers to both the sharpening of the blade and its cross-section (i.e. if you slice a blade in half, the shape of the blade section thus revealed). Single-edged and double-edged blades are fairly self-explanatory, as a typical sword is a bar sharpened on one or both sides. “Three” and “four” edges refers to blades of a very different cross-section—triangular and diamond-shaped, respectively. Such blades are difficult to sharpen, and more often than not remain unsharpened; they are characteristic of thrusting weapons, since being unable to cut effectively, they encourage the user to thrust, and offer considerable stiffness and strength to prevent the sword from bowing if it encounters an obstacle. It is interesting that Howard knew about such blades, but not that they were not usually sharpened.

cccc2z3kkembgpcavwiwThe Scottish claymore (from claidheamh mor) of the 1500s was initially a double-edged broadsword of the type described by Howard, but eventually developed an elaborate and distinctive basket hilt, which begat the “public notions” he mentions.

The term cutlass refers to a variety of different weapons adopted specifically for naval use; initially European militaries used the same weapons as land-based armies, but at the close quarters and with the rigging of wooden sailing ships, around the 18th century nations began to adopt and standardize on one-handed short swords, often single-edged and developing a bowl-guard and a slight curve. Howard’s image of the cutlass might have been fixed by the final cutlass adopted by the U.S. Navy, the Model 1917, which had a distinct clipped point.

The sabre or saber is a curved sword, usually single-edged, typically designated for cavalry use. Cavalry were still in use in the early 20th century, although the cavalry charge as a tactic largely died out during World War I. Howard’s comments on the suitability of a curved saber as opposed to a straight thrusting sword for cavalry are enlightening in showing his general ignorance of modern (and largely final) developments in cavalry swords. The final combat issue sword of the U.S. Army was the Model 1913 Cavalry Sword (designed by Lt. George S. Patton), and was a specialized thrusting weapon—or, as E. Hoffmann Price would put it “a blundering straight bladed thing for thrusting, pike-wise, not for sabre-slashing.” (CLIMH 313) The Patton sword (and similar dedicated thrusting cavalry swords, like the Spanish M1907 and the British P1908) helped transfer the momentum of horse and rider into the thrust, but were not primarily designed for melee or cutting.

On non-European swords, Howard appears to rely more heavily on history and fiction:

For the last century, the East, excepting the Mongols, has used rather light, curved weapons, often with basket-hilts, with one-hand-hilts. But in past ages many Orientals used heavy, cumbersome swords, two handed and double edged, often without a point.

Plutarch remarks that Artaxerzes ordered his Persian armies to discard their heavy, cumbersome weapons and adopt the Roman short-sword.

I quote Harold Lamb, in “The Three Palladins”, “Mukuli Khan’s sword was a two-handed affair, a hundred pounds in weight.”

To this day the Mongols cling to the two handed sword of their ancestors, more so than any other tribe in Asia. (LC 379)

Howard’s sweeping comments on the arsenal east—all two sentences of it—of course gives little to work with, except to show that he was, in 1922-1923, aware that Asia had different types of swords, but didn’t have many specifics to offer. The “heavy, cumbersome swords, two-handed and double-edged, often without point” however might refer to something like the Chinese dadao, a two-handed, single-edged blade designed primarily for chopping (and, indeed, is infamous for its use in executions), or the Indian khanda, which varied considerably but often had a rounded point and was double- or single-edged, and many had a pommel-spike believed to be used for two-handed strikes. Either of these might have featured in the kind of adventure-fiction Howard read.

Howard’s reference to Plutarch provides a good basis for the kind of historical work he might reference in shaping his knowledge of swords and their use. The actual incident that Howard refers to from Plutarch’s Lives was not Artaxerxes but Mithridates:

Mithridates, boastful and pompous at the outset, like most of the Sophists, had first opposed the Romans with forces which were really unsubstantial, though brilliant and ostentatious to look upon. With these he had made a ridiculous fiasco and learned a salutary lesson. When therefore, he thought to go to war the second time, he organized his forces into a genuinely effective armament. He did away with Barbarous hordes from every clime, and all their discordant and threatening cries; he provided no more armour inlaid with gold and set with precious stones, for he saw that these made rich booty for the victors, but gave no strength whatever to their wearers; instead, he had swords forged in the Roman fashion, and heavy shields welded […] (Lives)

Harold Lamb, meanwhile, is very much the type of writer-historian that Howard was drawn to for details on Asian and Crusader weapons. “The Three Palladins” was such a tale, originally published as a three-part serial in Adventure magazine from July-August 1923, and focused on the Mongols—which may go some way to explaining Howard’s enthusiasm for Mongol weaponry in his short essay, and without doubt was his primary source for his thoughts regarding their weapons and usage. (cf. CL1.31)

KyberElsewhere in his letters, poetry, and fiction, Robert E. Howard makes reference to a few other specific types of blade, many of which are discussed by Barbara Bartlett in “Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector and His Poetry.” For example, the glaive, which appears in “The Ballad of King Geraint” is an archaic word for “sword,” referring to a broad-sword, although it eventually became the specific name for a type of polearm. The references to hangers, tulwars, Khyber knives (CL1.7, 14), Rajput and Mongol swords and the like can be attributed to Howard’s continued reading and weapons. A particular example is “The Iron Terror,” where El Borak is quizzed about a collection of weapons from around the world, in addition to the regular rapier, tulwar, and Bowie knife a cheray, parang-parang, misericorde, anlace, schiavona, Maharati gauntlet-sword, and “a samurai sword of old Japan.”

Perhaps more interesting, given Howard’s position as an early innovator of “Sword & Sorcery,” mythical and magic swords are largely absent from much of his work. King Arthur’s Excalibur, the French Durendal, and the Irish Caladbolg don’t merit mention, nor Lord Dunsany’s eponymous mystic blade from “The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save For Sacnoth,” although it’s not sure Howard ever read this story. However, Howard did refer to enchanted blades in some of his fiction and poetry. The most famous such weapon is in the Conan story “The Phoenix on the Sword”:

[“]Hold out your sword.”

Wondering, Conan did so, and on the great blade, close to the heavy silver guard, the ancient traced with a bony finger a strange symbol that glowed like white fire in the shadows. And on the instant crypt, tomb and ancient vanished, and Conan, bewildered, sprang from his couch in the great golden-domed chamber. And as he stood, bewildered at the strangeness of his dream, he realized that he was gripping his sword in his hand. And his hair prickled at the nape of his neck, for on the broad blade was carven a symbol – the outline of a phoenix. (CCC 18-19)

The idea of a magic sigil carved or marked on a sword also appeared in an untitled poem: “And ancient sword hilts carved with scroll and rune” (CL1.281), and in “The Madness of Cormac” he wrote:

Draw your sword, the grey sword, the sword of Fin, the fey sword,
Carved with a nameless rune. (CL3.501)

The only other magical blades in Howard’s corpus appear in “The Black Stone,” where Howard wrote: “ancient steel blessed in old times by Muhammad, and with incantations that were old when Arabia was young.” (CS 135) and in “The Devil in Iron,” where a “curious dagger with a jeweled pommel, a shagreen-bound hilt, and a broad, crescent blade.” which was forged from a meteor, and against which the magic of the demon Khosatral Khel is powerless.

Lorange_1889_TabIAlthough it’s not quite clear where exactly Howard got his ideas for magic swords, he was working within fairly established traditions. Inscriptions on the blade or hilt of swords are attested to in the historical and archaeological record, particularly the medieval +VLFBERHT+ swords of. Likewise, meteorites were known as a source of iron since antiquity, and the concept of “starmetal” blades were not unknown. Howard also largely avoided the use of “fantasy” weapons, like the triple-bitted axe which featured so prominently in the Conan the Barbarian (1982) film; the only weapon he “invented” was the three-bladed dagger of “Three-Bladed Doom,” which has its historical analogues such as the main-gauche, and the “scissor” style of katar, so while it might be ahistorical isn’t improbable.

Perhaps more interesting in the discussion of the dagger which was the bane of Kohsatral Khel is its jewelled pommel and sharkskin-covered hilt, which suggests a weapon of status—and as with magic swords, jewelled blades with hilts and guards of precious metal are relatively scarce in his fiction. The vast majority of swords in Howard’s fiction, as in his life, were practical weapons of war, not meant merely for ornament or ceremony, but to be used. Where weapons do appear that are decorated with jewels or precious metals, or are described as works of great artistry, they are still practical weapons, not mere displays of wealth. For example, in the unfinished “The Land of Mystery,” Howard writes:

The blade was long, straight and slim with two edges and of fine blue steel, on the surface of which were engraved faint lines of what seemed to be writing. There was a gold-inlaid steel guard and the hilt was of silver worked and inlaid with gold. Small stones that were undoubtedly diamonds and rubies were set in the hilt and a large one formed the pommel. On one side of the hilt was a small gold plate and on it was carved a lion with the most consummate skill. Tiny rubies were set for the lion’s eyes. (EEB 151)

“Bluing” was a technique where a steel object is treated to obtain a blue-black finish, either by reheating or via a chemical process; the resulting iron oxide layer lends a distinctive appearance to the metal and helps protect against corrosion, and was sometimes applied to more expensive sword blades, even into the modern period, as well as firearms, where Howard is most likely to have been familiar with it. Note how he describes the weapon: it’s shape, it’s cutting edges, the details of blade, guard, hilt, and pommel. These details show how Howard could apply his knowledge of weapons, when he chose to elaborate on them.

“And bronze for a warrior where the broadswords sing!
“Golden hafted, brazen shafted, ho! A kingly sword!
“Fit for a knight to make a stand with such brand in his hand
“Gainst a horde!
“Then ho and ho again! for the anvils roar!
“For the clamor of the hammer and the metal-workers lore!
“A helmet for a chief and a cuirass for a lord!
“For a king’s own hand, a golden hilted sword!
—Robert E. Howard, “Arcadian Days” (CL.108-109)

Cover painting for Conan the Barbarian #20 by Barry Windsor Smith

Read Part 1, Part 3

1conan_the_barbarian_by_denism79

Yab Conab, son of Conab the Enormity, was in all things identical to his father, save only that his father was considerably older and punch-drunk. Young Yab, dubbed Conab the Bonehead because of his lumpy protruding brow, had been captured in his childhood by slave-raiders who took him out of Cimmeria, and set him to hard labor in a tomato garden.

He was often hungry because he’d been told the tomatoes were toxic and were only harvested to make poisons to kill wolves. At age seventeen he discovered this was a lie to keep the slaves from eating the harvest. This angered him sufficiently that he raised a rebellion.

Armed only with a garden trowel and manure rake, he killed everyone, even his fellow rebels, and a pack of wolves for good measure, then set off for a career as a freebooter, mercenary, and chimney sweep. At long last by means of usurpation (or by marrying a homely widowed queen) he became king of some great kingdom (or a settlement of wattle huts by a walnut grove).

He thereafter spent a good deal of time deciding dull matters of state and eating too many berries, walnuts and pasta, and drinking great flagons of hot melted pork fat, brooding in his throne because of the sad emotions awakened in his heart. His small pointy jaw rested on his humongous fist, in an aspect of thoughtful and woebegone bewilderment, like unto a man who cannot think of the precise word nor quite remember the capital of a given country.

One day King Bonehead stood in his boudoir gazing in a mirror of bronze. Ordinarily this was a joyful exercise, as the bronze surface of the mirror distorted his face, making him handsomer than was true, and gave his palorous Cimmerian complexion a rosy hue. But presently he realized he was looking older, his paunch hung over the front of his sword belt, and his hair was thin.

His mind drew back in time, to when he was a young man. Thinking he was not even now too old for adventure, he set out for Cimmeria, hoping to be reunited with his greatly beloved father, Conab the Enormity. It was a perilous journey with many close escapes and minor conquests, like the Adventure in the Wilderness, where Yab earned impressive scars upon his rump, rendered by an angry hog whose slop pail Conab had attempted to rob.

In Cimmeria he searched far and wide, at last encountering a pot-bellied drunkard whose scraped and meaty fists were used for nothing more refined than the sport of rat-mashing.

This was his father, whom Bonehead met in a low dive where he was busy mashing rats, one after the other, to the sound of riotous laughter, and downing, between mashings, whole buckets of the damp, spoiled chicken mash that passed for beer in Cimmeria.

“Father, ’tis I, Conab the Bonehead!” said Conab the Bonehead, master of his destiny. He held wide his arms, eager for an embrace, but the drunken rat-masher evaded the hug.

“What? Eh? What do you mean, ‘Father.’ I have no son.”

“But look at me, if I were more greatly potbellied, aged, besotted, with rat-bites on my knuckles, punch-drunk and silly, you would see I’m your very double.”

“What? Eh? Seeing double?”

“I am your son!”

The senior Conab waxed nostalgic. “Had a son once.”

“I was captured by raiders, taken to a far land.”

“There! You see! My son wasn’t captured by no one. I sold him to some passing caravan for the price of a few potatoes.”

“I am that son.”

“If you’re my son Bonehead the Unlamented, prove it by mashing a few strong rats.”

Yab took one look at the manged rodents for several heartbeats before a sense of profound discouragement overwhelmed him. He turned on his heel and fled in horror of his father, though Conab the Enormity always assumed the fellow ran out for fear of the rats, proving the stranger was no son of his.

And so Yab returned to his little walnut kingdom, or town, and entered his castle, or wattle hut, and tried to be satisfied that things were as good as they were. Yet after many years had passed, Yab saw that he had become indeed like his father, though it was good wine instead of spoiled mash that made him sotted, and good pasta with sausages washed down with warm semi-liquescent lard instead of rat-kabobs that made him wide of bum and big of belly.

He had three sons, dubbed Conab the Button-nose, Conab Smalldong, and his youngest, Conab the Player with Dolls and Kittens.

The lads liked nothing better than to gather about their poppa when he was on his throne, and listen to him cracking walnuts in his huge fists while telling unlikely tales of his glorious youth as a wizard-slayer, wool-strangler, freebooter, cattle-rustler, and roustabout.

When his sons reached their individual ages of fifteen, eighteen, and twenty, they conspired to poison old Yab, who fell dead in the walnut grove wherein he had been chasing after a pretty, flirtatious she-goat. The sons divided up the property, cut down the nut grove, and built highrise apartments with a lovely view of some ditchwater and a clearcut mountain called Baldy. The apartment dwellers claim the spirit pf Yab Conab to this day wanders the hallways, and rides the elevators up and down, chasing after a bleating horned beast whom the ghostly Yab calls Daisy. A sad tale but a true one, and even so, nobody cares a tiddle nor gives a quid.

Illustration by Denis Medri

Jessica is this year’s Guest of Honor at Diversicon and a new collection of her poetry has just been published by Raintree, titled The Death Sonnets. Centipede Press is about to publish a big omnibus of Jessica’s novels, tales, and poems. From Alchemy Press early this year will be a volume of the complete weird epistles of Penelope Pettiweather, ghost hunter. And the Sidecar Preservation Society will release during Diversicon Pets Given in Evidence of Old English Withchcraft and Other Bewitched Beings. She has also written an introduction for a forthcoming edition of the complete poetry of Michael Shea. Also, from her Duck’s-foot Tree Productions comes Daisy Zoo and Other Punk-Ass Nonsense to coincide with Diversicon.

This entry filed under Sword & Sorcery.

DDDGAZ376_769241239855435_6765069083321374207_n

Something old is new again. In the tradition of AmraThe Hyborian Gazette features, in addition to REH related material, this fanzine covers other topics such as general fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, fantasy fiction, etc. Here are the details of the first issue, courtesy of Bill Thom’s Coming Attractions:

Carnelian Press is proud to announce a fanzine from The International Robert E. Howard Fan Association.

Edited by Steve Dilks, The Hyborian Gazette will feature art, stories and articles from the likes of Adrian Cole (The Voidal), Jeffrey Shanks (REHupa academic), Steve Lines (Rainfall Books), Glen Usher (Boscastle) and many more.

Featuring great cover art by legendary British illustrator, Jim Pitts, an exclusive article by REHupa founder, Tim Marion and a rarely seen story from Lin Carter, this is one fanzine you will not want to miss!

Contents

“A Word from the Editor” by Steve Dilks.
“A Rogue Rhyme; Yara’s Pride” by Jason Hardy (poetry); Illustrated by Jim Pitts.
“Perceptions” byJason Hardy (poetry); Illustrated by Jim Pitts.
“Darkness Comes to Erebus” by Julio Gianni Toro SanMartin and Hank Simmons (poetry); Illustrated by Jim Pitts.
“History, Horror, and Heroic Fantasy: Robert E. Howard and the Creation of Sword and Sorcery” by Jeffrey Shanks (article)
“The Priory of the Black Templars” by Glen Usher (story); Illustrated by Steve Lines.
“I Remember R.E.H.U.P.A.” by Tim Marion (article)
“The Shadow Navigator” by Adrian Cole (story); Illustrated by Yannis Rubus Rubulias.
“Red Swords in Tharnya” by Andrew G. Henderson (story); Illustrated by Kurt Brugel.
“Black Stars in the Skulls of Doom” by Lin Carter (story); Illustrated by Al Harron. Calligraphy by Tim Marion.
Afterword by Mario Geraci.

All profits from The Hyborian Gazette will go directly to Project Pride in Cross Plains, Texas, for the upkeep of the Robert E. Howard house and museum.

Pricing details for The Hyborian Gazette # 1 are as follows:

To the U.S and Canada: $18.00

To the U.K.: £10.00

For mainland Europe and the rest of the world please contact us via private message.

How to order through Carnelian Press:

At present we only accept payment via PayPal. If you have an account, please follow these four easy steps:

Step 1: Visit our Facebook page and private message us via the “Message Now” link in the left column of the Facebook page letting us know you would like to purchase a copy of The Hyborian Gazette # 1. We will get back to you with an e-mail address where you can send payment.

Step 2: Go to the PayPal website and log in to your personal account.

Step 3: Once you are logged in, select the option to “Send Money” at the top of the page and enter the correct amount to pay to the email address provided.

Step 4: Once Carnelian Press receives confirmation of the e-mail transaction we will private message you to tell you payment has been received and your book order is ready for shipment.

Baen-Books-bw

Congratulations are in order for our own Keith Taylor for being a finalist for the 2015 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award for his short story “The Triton’s Son.”  Here is an excerpt of the Baen Books Press release announcing the finalists:

2015 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award Finalists

RIVERDALE, NEW YORK—Baen Books, in association with popular gaming convention GenCon, announced today the finalists for the 2015 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award. The finalists are:

“Saurs” by Craig DeLancey

“Unfound” by Rhiannon Held

“Shell Game” by Joseph L. Kellogg

“Victor the Sword” by Robin Lupton

“Trappists” by Katherine Monasterio

“Burning Savannah” by Alexander Monteagudo

“Kiss from a Queen” by Jeff Provine

“An Old Dragon’s Treasure” by Robert Russell

“The Triton’s Son” by Keith Taylor

“Adroit” by Dave Williams

Finalists will be judged by senior Baen editing staff—including Jim Minz, Tony Daniel and Toni Weisskopf—and special guest judge, best-selling author Larry Correia. The grand prize winner and two runners up will be announced on August 1, 2015 during the award presentation at GenCon in Indianapolis. The contest, launched in 2014, recognizes the short story entries in the contest that best exemplify the spirit of adventure, imagination, and great storytelling in a work of short fiction with a fantastic setting, whether epic fantasy, heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery, or contemporary fantasy. The winning story will be published on website Baen.com.

“We are very pleased to be presenting this award in association with GenCon and its literary programming track,” said Baen senior editor Jim Minz. “Gaming is not just something we love; it can be a proving ground for exciting stories. Many of our authors are gamers, both as fans and professionals. We believe that gamers have great stories to tell and we want this award to bring favorable attention to our winners—and provide some great stories for lucky readers out there to dive into.”

Best of luck to you Keith, we are all pulling for you to get this well deserved award and reading your story on the Baen website!

This entry filed under News, Sword & Sorcery.

The Hyborian Age

Since we are half way through 2015, I thought I’d pause and highlight the various Robert E. Howard books and publications that have appeared so far this year.

The latest and my personal favorite is the recent edition of “The Hyborian Age,” one of the rarest Howard items sought after by collectors. I’ve only seen one copy in person at that was at a behind the scenes tour at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin where a copy was being prepared for a public display of Howard materials. It was sight to behold. Of course I couldn’t actually handle it, but it was still a thrill just to see it.

Here is a description of the facsimile publication of the “Hyborian Age” from the Skelos Press website.

Skelos Press is proud to present a facsimile edition of one of the rarest and most valuable of all Conan and Robert E. Howard publications – the legendary 1938 chapbook The Hyborian Age published by LANY Cooperative. Originally compiled by Forrest J. Ackerman, Donald Wollheim, and several other notable fans of the time, this booklet contains the first full publication of Howard’s world-building essay “The Hyborian Age,” along with the first published map of Conan’s world. It also includes the first appearance of the famous essay “A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career” by P. Schuyler Miller and Dr. John D. Clark, as well as an introductory letter from H. P. Lovecraft. This modern facsimile edition includes a new introductory essay by Howard expert and pulp scholar Jeffrey Shanks discussing the history of this publication and the back-story behind “The Hyborian Age.”

This  facsimile edition is the next best thing to owning an original copy and a whole lot cheaper. You can purchase it from Amazon.com.

girasol-WeirdTales-July1933Girasol Collectibles, which is ceasing publication of its pulp replicas, published its final two issues Weird Tales, both featuring a Howard story:  Volume 22 Number 1, July 1933 (“The Man on the Ground”) and Volume 25 Number 2, February 1935 (“The Grisly Horror”). These replicas, which allowed fans to read Howard’s stories as they first appeared, will be sorely missed by the many fans (myself included) who collected them.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t toss out a shameless plug for the new issue of the REH: Two-Gun Raconteur print journal, even though sales very been good for issue 18, I still have copies available.

An outfit called Fiction House Press has published four books of PD material, mostly lifted from the Gutenberg Australia website. Titles include Red Nails, A Gent from Bear Creek, The Devil In Iron (which includes “A Witch Shall Be Born” and “Jewels of Gwahlur”) and Queen of the Black Coast (which includes “The People of the Black Circle”). I  imagine everyone has these stories in one form or another already, but still outlets like Fiction House continue to publish them over and over again just because they can.

Le Guide Howard (The Howard Guide) by Patrice Louinet is a nice little volume that was published in April. It is currently available only in French, but Patrice is hard at work on an English version. Here is a description of the book (translated from the publisher’s website):

His texts have shaped the codes of fantasy. His characters (Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane …) marked generations of readers. For fifteen years, Robert E. Howard knows a true literary resurrection.

Free of interference of those who have appropriate after his death, his founding work is now accessible in all its strength through friendly editions of his work.

Written by Patrice Louinet, one of the biggest specialists in the world of Howard, this guide full of new information explores the many facets of a rich work, debunks the past prejudices, and gives us many reasons to (re) read again and again.

Summary:

Thanks
Introduction
I. Ten myths about Howard
II. The twenty new need to have read (and why)
III. Biography
IV. Twenty other texts that also deserve your attention
V. Few terse words in ten other texts
VI. Conan, the real and imitation
VII. On Howard
VIII. Adaptations
IX. Around Howard
X. Dear Mr. Lovecraft
XI. Read Howard
Conclusion

So if you are like me and can’t read French, fear not because an English edition will soon be forthcoming.

Bobby Derie complied the Addenda and Index to The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, which was published by the REHF Press early this year. In addition to Addenda and Index, Derie created abstracts of all the letters in the three volumes on a Wikithulhu webpage. It’s a perfect tool for scholars and researchers to get a handle on what they are looking for. Here is the blurb for the book from the REHF website:

11594_10203070105425884_2880174201235088716_nThe Robert E. Howard Foundation Press is proud to present this long-awaited index to the three-volume The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. Compiled by Bobby Derie, author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos, with a foreword and annotations by REHF Award-winning author Jeffrey Shanks, this important reference work provides a much-needed tool for researchers studying the correspondence of the father of sword and sorcery and the creator of Conan the Cimmerian. Also included are seventeen letters by Howard newly discovered since the publication of The Collected Letters, including several drafts of letters to H. P. Lovecraft, all wrapped up in fine cover by Jim & Ruth Keegan. This index is a must-have for fans and scholars wishing to explore the fascinating epistolary corpus of one of the greatest fantasy adventure writers of the 20th century.

 

Ordering details also appear on the webpage.

The fourth and final volume of Fists of Iron: The Collected Boxing Fiction of Robert E. Howard was published in April:

The REH Foundation Press is proud to present Fists of Iron, Round 4, the final volume of a four-volume series that presents the Collected Boxing Fiction of Robert E. Howard. This volume features the collected Kid Allison stories and measures in at 347 pages (plus introductory material). It will be printed in hardback with dust jacket, with the first printing limited to 200 copies, each individually numbered. Cover art by Tom Gianni and introduction by Mark Finn. Now shipping.

This volume rounds out the collection nicely and is a must have for any true Howard aficionado. Copies are still available. Also, a fifth companion volume is in the works.

The tenth issue of Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword comic appeared in April:

This issue is packed from cover to cover with stories by some of comics’ greatest creators. Ron Marz teams up with Richard Clark to tell a thrilling tale of human sacrifice and swift justice starring Solomon Kane. Alex de Campi and Marc Laming adapt Howard’s famed fable “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” and John Ostrander pens a brand-new story starring the Cimmerian swordsman Conan! Plus we reprint the timeless Kull tale “Demon in a Silvered Glass” by Doug Moench and John Bolton!

This Dark Horse anthology series always has a wide variety of Howard characters featured in each issue. Issues 1 through 8 have been published in two paperbound books, with four issues in each one.

Finally, if you are either a Friend of REH or a Legacy Circle member of The Robert E. Howard Foundation, three newsletters have been published so far this year, with two more planned. The REHF Newsletter appears quarterly.

As for the second half of the year, who knows what is in store for Howard fans. A lot of things are cooking, we’ll just have to wait and see what is served up.

pulpreplica-WeirdTales_35_02A

In case you have not heard, Girasol Collectables is ceasing publication of its high-quality pulp replicas. Here is a post from Bill Thom’s Coming Attractions webpage on the end of an era.

That dreaded moment has come and the Girasol Pulp Replicas project is coming to a close.

We’ve stepped up production on the next three months of Replicas and we now have the final issues available to complete the sets of the Spider, Operator 5 and Terror Tales.

After this, no NEW Replicas will be added to the catalogue.

We will, for an as yet undetermined period, be keeping the existing catalogue available.

However, we may begin retiring the less-active Replicas at any time, so don’t delay if there are any you’re interested in!

Contact us before ordering large quantities to confirm availability.

For those of you accustomed to the monthly specials, you can still order that way if you prefer.

If you’re looking for individual titles, you can order them singly, or all together, whichever suits you best.

We’d like to thank everybody that has supported the project over the years, and we hope that the Replicas continue to provide reading and research enjoyment for years to come.

We do not anticipate taking on any other pulp reprint projects at this time and our Pulp Cover Gallery project is our only active item at present.

Girasol published a lot of replica issues of Weird Tales and other pulps Howard was published in. Their Weird Tales replicas included many of the Conan stories. So if you want to purchase some for the first time or get ones you are missing, now is the time before it is too late.

On the Howard Works website there is a complete list of everything published by Girasol Collectables with Howard fiction or poetry featured.

111111queen

I was a Robert E. Howard fan for about a year when I first came across Stephen Fabian’s work in one of the first hardcover collection of Howard’s stories I ever purchased. That book was The Vultures, published in 1973 by Fictioneer Press. I was totally blown away by Fabian’s art and immediately was on the lookout for more of his stuff. I soon found it in Cross Plains, REH: Lone Star Fictioneer, Fantasy Crossroads and The Howard Review, to name but a few. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a bad Fabian illustration. As far as I’m concerned, his unique style and quality are unsurpassed.

imageStephen Emil Fabian, Sr. was born in Garfield, New Jersey on January 3, 1930. He grew up in Passaic, New Jersey, graduating High School in 1949. At that time there was a mandatory draft going on in preparation for the anticipated Korean war and since Fabian did not want to go into the Army, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, signing up for 4 years. After basic training in Texas, Fabian attended the Radio and Radar Schools at Scott Air Force Base, Belleville, Illinois, completing both the general and the advanced radio and radar courses, he stayed on as an instructor.

In the early 1950s Fabian was 21 years old and teaching electronics courses in the U.S. Air Force. At that time he began buying and reading Amazing Stories, Galaxy and other science fiction magazines, being attracted to them by the beautiful Virgil Finlay covers and the wonderful story illustrations of Edd Cartier and others. He was also a huge fan of Hannes Bok. Fabian recalls thinking at the time, “I wish I could do that.”

Returning to civilian life in 1953, Fabian went to work for Dumont Television in East Paterson, New Jersey. In 1955 he got married and shortly thereafter, two sons, Andy and Stephen, Jr., were born. Soon Fabian established a lifelong friendship with Gerry de La Ree, fantasy bookseller and publisher:

Gerry de La Ree was the first person I met who was an insider in the science fiction and fantasy field. That was back in 1955 when he lived in River Edge, New Jersey and had a mail-order book and used magazine business and my first visit to his home was to buy some back issues of Fantastic Novels and Famous Fantastic Mysteries. Those issues featured the artwork of Virgil Finlay, Lawrence Sterne Stevens, and Hannes Bok, and I just had to have them; I was just starting to collect SF books and magazines. When I entered his home that first time it was like going from black and white to color and stepping into the Magical Land of Oz. All those beautiful paintings and all those wonderful books, all over the house, and all science fiction and fantasy! My sense of wonder was overflowing, and I could tell that Gerry could see it in my face, by the smile he had on his face. At that time I had just gotten married and was working as an electronic technician at the Dumont Television Lab in East Paterson, New Jersey, and if you told me then that one day I would become a munchkin in that Land of Oz, I would have laughed and said, “I wish!” Well, would you believe it, 20 years later, I actually did become a munchkin, turning out illustrations and cover paintings for science fiction books; magazines, fanzines, and I’ve been doing it for many years, in the Magical Land of Oz!

In 1958 Fabian went to work for the Curtiss Wright Electronics Division, also in East Paterson, which lasted for 5 years and in 1963 he was hired by Simmonds Precision Products, working in their Research and Development department. Most of the work at Simmonds involved military and aerospace contracts. When they moved to Vermont in 1965, Fabian and his family went with them. In 1974 things got so bad in those industries that his department was eliminated and Fabian lost his job. Not long after, Simmonds Precision was gone.

imageIn the mid-1960s when he had dreams of becoming a professional science fiction illustrator, Fabian was teaching himself to draw and paint. He purchased 5 art instruction books by the great illustrator, Andrew Loomis: Fun With a Pencil, Drawing the Head and Hands, Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth, 3-Dimensional Drawing and Creative Illustration. As practice, Fabian copied Loomis’ “Mermaid” painting from Creative Illustration and made lots of changes in order to be a little “creative” about it.

Steve’s first published artwork appeared in 1967 in the fanzine Twilight Zine, published by the MIT Science Fiction Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The editors placed an ad in a SF magazine that Fabian read soliciting artwork for their fanzine. He quickly worked up the courage to create a drawing and mail it to them. Fabian soon received a copy in the mail of Twilight Zine No.24, saw his drawing on the cover and was overjoyed. It was his first small step toward fulfilling his wish to become a professional SF illustrator.

Fabian kept refining his craft until his artwork gained widespread attention in the publishing world:

In 1974, I became free of the burden of having to “work for a living,” From the very first day that I lost my job at Simmonds Precision Products and came home to find two letters in the mail from professional magazines asking me to contribute artwork, I have never had to go out and solicit assignments from anyone. Every week, for years and years, I received phone calls or letters from paying fan magazine editors or professional publishers offering me work. I don’t know why this “miracle” happened to me, but it did.

On discovering Robert E. Howard, Fabian comments:

As I continued to work at my new career and art fans began to contact me wanting to buy my original artwork I soon learned that certain subjects were sure sellers; any drawing or painting I did that featured a well-endowed female or a unicorn, were sure sellers. There came a time when I thought, “Gee, why don’t I just draw and paint women and horses with horns, I can make a living just doing that!” And then along came the discovery of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories and he also became a “sure-seller” for me. Dozens of fanzine publishers asked me to do Conan drawings for them. I have enjoyed reading Howard’s “original” stories, and for giving me that enjoyment, I forgive him for hating Lincoln.

Around this time Fabian did a lot of work for a California publisher named George Hamilton. First his art was featured in Hamilton’s Howard fanzine Cross Plains, followed by artwork done for a number of REH chapbooks, including Blades for France, Isle of Pirate’s Doom, Shadow of the Hun, among others.

hamilton-shadowofthehun

Fabian does not have one favorite Howard piece, but believes he did some of his best Howard artwork on the “Queen of the Black Coast” portfolio published by Bortner & Kruse in 1976. I have to agree; the portfolio is stunning and true to the story.

In 1977 when Zebra Books was ready to publish a collection of Howard’s Dark Agnes de Chastillon yarns titled The Sword Woman, Fabian was commissioned to do the cover and a number of interior illustrations:

zebra-swordwoman

When I received the manuscript for this job I was asked by the editor to do some preliminary sketches and bring them to their New York office. A few days later, when I got there, the editor introduced me to her very young assistant who led me to a small room and directed me to a table. On the table were paperback covers that had been removed from their books and laid out neatly in rows; there must have been about 30 or more of them, from various publishers other than Zebra. He pointed to them and said, “I don’t want anything that looks like this junk, I want you to do me artwork that will make a browser’s eyes in a bookstore pop out when he sees your cover and reach out and grab it!” I leaned over to get a closer look at the artwork on some of the covers and I recognized a couple of Jeff Jones covers, another by Frazetta, one by Kelly Freas, and it occurred to me that this table was filled with paperback covers painted by the best artists in the field! Before I responded, I reminded myself that I was in the Land of Oz now, I was not back in Vermont at my old job in the Research and Development department at Simmonds Precision Products trying to convince my boss that resistors R25 and R28 in the Torque Indicator square-wave circuit need to be .5% wire-wound precision resistors in order to make the indicator meet specs. Like many of the characters I read about in science fiction stories over the years, I had taken a step…into another world.

When I returned and showed my preliminary sketches to the assistant editor, he was shocked to see the “sword woman” wearing a wide-brimmed feathered hat, dressed in pantaloons and swinging an épée. “No, No, No” he uttered, “We want her in a steel helmet, wearing armor, and swinging a broadsword, like Conan the Conqueror! This is Robert E. Howard here, not the Three Musketeers!” “But,” I answered, “This is Howard’s version of the Musketeers, all the characters in the story use fencing swords and wear clothes like them. It is the time and place of the Musketeers.” He ran out of the room and came back a few minutes later. “We don’t care,” he said, “we want all the characters looking like barbarians; we want the book to attract the Conan readers.” So that’s what I did, and there you are, anyone who reads this book no doubt thinks that I did not, since my drawings are all wrong in the details! In a way though, I did try to put a hint of the Musketeer look into the pictures.

Also, the editor was not concerned with the cover artwork being faithful to the story, she wanted the book to attract “Conan readers,” and insisted I make my artwork reflect Howard’s barbarian age stories, and suggested the scene that appears on the cover. When I brought the finished painting to the office, the editor thought the sword woman’s breasts were a bit too small so I took it home and made them larger. This time they were a bit too large. I got them “perfect” the third time around. As I rode back home on the bus watching the city streets go by, my thoughts turned to Vermont, my old job, and how much I missed all those “problems” I had to deal with in the lab, the drafting department, the assembly department, the machine shop. Geez, I was thinking of them as “the good old days!”

Fabian would eventually find a use for those preliminary “Sword Woman” sketches. Years later he finished the drawings and sold them to art collectors whenever they phoned to ask if him if he had some Howard artwork for sale.

Fabian also did a great deal of artwork for Cryptic Publications. Most of their chapbooks featured Howard stories:

cryptic-twofisteddetective

Editor and publisher Robert Price had a lot of fun coming up with titles for his fan publications. During the 1980s he probably produced nearly 100 titles before he stopped doing them. They were priced from $3.00 to $4.50. each with print runs of perhaps 500 copies. Now, they show up on eBay occasionally, with starting prices at $175 and higher. And to think that Bob not only paid me for the cover art, he gave me 5 complimentary copies of each title, which I gladly turned around and handed out to my friends with my compliments. So let’s see…if I had held onto those free copies I would have over 100 of them, and if I put them on eBay…. Oh well, when I was a kid I also gave away my copies of the first issue of Action Comics, Batman, Superman, I had them all! What I did not have was the smarts to know that someday they would be worth thousands of dollars, each! I know, you’re going to tell me that after all the intervening years I’m still smart-less, giving away all those Robert Price fanzines.

Some more recent work done by Fabian was for the covers of Wildside’s ten volume collection, The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard, which brought his artwork into the computer age, as he explains:

The computer allows me to do something unique now with my artwork; I can take a part of one picture, combine it with another, change the colors, the sizes, play with the composition and create a whole new painting. Sometimes I use a painting that I did just as a palate to start a new painting, the former painting gets completely obliterated after a while as the new painting begins to take shape. The computer monitor is now my art palette, my old paintings are my tubes of paint, and the mouse is my stock of brushes.

wildside-beyondtheblackriver

Fabian is well respected in his field and has fans all over the world. In 2006 he was a recipient of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. Fabian was also twice nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist (1970 and 1971), and is a seven-time nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist (1975-1981).

He is still going strong at age 85, creating new masterworks of fantasy illustration, making new fans and awing a new generation with his immense talent.

Visit Stephen Fabian’s website for hundreds of examples of his art and the story behind each illustration. You can also purchase a number of signed portfolios of his artwork directly from him at reasonable prices.

 Artwork appearing on this page is © Copyright by Stephen Fabian. All rights reserved.
“Mermaid” painting by Andrew Loomis.