Saturday, December 31, 2011

One of Those D'oh! Moments

I was reading an article this morning that mentioned a long interview with Manly Wade Wellman in an issue of an old Fanzine, Chacal #2, and I thought Gee, I need to get a copy of that. So I looked around on ebay and saw the cover and then I thought, um...I already have that. Got it for the Karl Edward Wagner stuff in that issue. A couple of minutes of digging and I found the magazine. Oh well, at least I didn't order a copy before I realized I already owned it...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Top 10 Favorite Books of 2011

Over at her book blog, The Literary Omnivore, my friend Clare is seeking lists of Top 10 favorite reads for the year. Note that these are favorites, so they don't require any qualification. This is the stuff that I had the most fun with in 2011. All of these books were reviewed here at the blog so if you want more info, just check the reviews. Anyway, in no particular order, here we go.

The Saga of Eric Brighteyes by H. Rider Haggard

The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

Act of Providence by Joseph Payne Brennan

Let's Kill Ames by Lester Dent

Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Baltimore by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola

The Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins

Smile No More by James A. Moore

Durandal by Harold Lamb

Harald Hardrada: The Warriors Way by John Marsden

There ya go. Some of the books are old, some of them brand new. Eric Brighteyes is the oldest and I don't know why it took me so long to get around to it. The Desert of Souls is the debut novel of my friend Howard Andrew Jones and Smile No More is part of a series by my pal James A. Moore. Being a friend doesn't get you on the list but it doesn't keep you off either.
Durandal was a rousing historical adventure, and Let's Kill Ames was a rare Doc Savage novel written in the first person POV, which gave it a distinctive flavor. Act of Providence was a book that blurred the lines between fiction and reality, and we know how I love those.
Baltimore was one of the best and most original horror novels I've read in a long time. Harald Hardrada was a fantastic historical biography. Kiss Her Goodbye was my favorite so far of the Spillane/Collins collaborations, and Collins' solo effort The Last Quarry was the best hardboiled book I've read in ages. Had this been a top 11 list, Collins would have shown up again with Quarry in the Middle.
Now I didn't count re-reads so folks like David Gemmell, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Poul Anderson didn't make the list, and I should probably do a list of top 10 favorite short stories of 2011 at some point because I read some really good short tales this year and those authors deserve a mention. Maybe later.

Check out Clare's list here:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Witch Tree

And speaking of Frank Belknap Long, I mentioned a few posts back that Long had written some Gothic Romances in the 1970s, using his wife Lyda's name as a pseudonym. I've been slowly picking those up, and since I've been reading some of the stories in the Centipede Press FBL collection, I decided to read another of Long's Gothics to compare the writing styles.
While I won't classify the Gothics as potboilers, Long was a working writer and he wrote what he could sell. I doubt that they were his first choice and I do wonder how he got the gig. Perhaps through an agent. In any event, as I said, long was a pro and I'm sure he gave the Gothics his best shot.
The Witch Tree is the second of the books I've read. The first was To the Dark Tower, which I reviewed in July. Both books are concerned to some degree with Satanic cults, which seems to be a common feature in Long's Gothics. This isn't surprising, as novels and movies about Satan were very popular in the late 1960s/early 1970s when Long was writing these books.
The Witch Tree is about a woman named Joan Rondon who comes to a creepy island off the coast of East Greenville, South Carolina, in search of her sister Barbara, who has gone missing while assisting her former college professor in research involving the occult. Joan lands right in the midst of gory goings on and is in trouble pretty much from the moment she sets foot on Hawk Island. The book is only 174 pages long so that's most of the plot in a nutshell. Most of the mystery and suspense revolves around an Agatha Christie style twisty plot where you don't know who's a good guy and who's a bad guy.
As I noted in my review of To the dark Tower, Long's primary strength is developing mood. It's a dank, dark, creepy world that Joan has stumbled into and Long never lets you forget it.
One odd thing I noted about this "Gothic Romance" is that there's very little romance. Joan meets a couple of hot guys as the book unfolds and she notes their hotness, but nothing really happens There are indications at the end that Joan may end up with one of the men but that's about it. In other Gothics I've read by Madeleine Brent and Victoria Holt, the romance is usually a major subplot. I imagine there were some disappointed housewives who bought this one back in 1971. This is almost a straight ahead horror novel, closer in spirit to Long's other weird tales than to a love story. I recall that To the Dark Tower had a stronger romance element. Have to see about the others as I come across them. I have a copy of 'So Dark a Heritage' on the way, a Gothic that actually has Frank Belknap Long's name on the cover as opposed to the Lyda pen name.
Anyway, if you like Long, this will probably interest you. If you're a fan of old school Gothic Romances this might not have enough romance to make you happy. Plenty of Gothic trappings though

Monday, December 26, 2011

Centipede Press's Frank Belknap Long

I don't know about you, but when I think of a Grimoire, a spell book, I think of a massive tome, almost too heavy to lift with one hand, filled with weird creatures and strange illustrations, perhaps with a jet black cover and a ribbon for keeping one's place. Centipede Press's Frank Belknap Long collection, part of their Masters of the Weird Tale series puts me in mind of just such a book. I received a copy of this 1022 page behemoth of a book as a Christmas gift from my pal Cliff and it is truly a wonderful and creepy volume.
If you're unfamiliar with Frank Belknap Long, you're not alone. Though he is one of the original writers for the pulp magazine Weird Tales, appearing side by side in the magazine with H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, and though he is one of the "Lovecraft Circle" and generally considered the first writer to use the Cthulhu Mythos in a story after Lovecraft (The Hounds of Tindalos) Long has not found the popularity that the 'three musketeers' of Weird Tales have and his work hasn't been collected and reprinted to the same level as HPL, REH, and CAS.
The Centipede Press book goes a long way toward correcting this. This is the largest single collection of Long's work, featuring over 65 stories. The book focuses on Long's weird and horror stories and contains little of his science fiction output, as the title would suggest. Not only are Long's best know stories here, (The Space Eaters, The Horror From the Hills, etc,) but there are stories included that haven't been reprinted since their original publication in the Pulp magazines over 50 years ago. There simply hasn't been a collection like this of Frank Belknap Long's work.
In his excellent introduction to the collection, editor John Pelan points out that the popular conception of Long as a prolific producer of Lovecraft pastiches is way off the mark. Only a very few of Long's stories actually fit into the Cthulhu Mythos and some only marginally. Though Lovecraft did act as a mentor to Long early in long's career, Long wasn't a Lovecraft imitator by any stretch. In fact, as I've read through the first several stories in the collection, I've been very impressed with Long's ability to conjure original and disturbing horrors that are entirely his own. Tales like Second Night Out and Death Waters stay with you long after you've set the book aside. Frank Belknap Long dreamed some dark dreams, and that's for sure.
Now a few words about the book itself. Centipede press makes some darn nice books. Well bound, well made, with heavy paper and sharp printing. This book is lavishly illustrated with new drawings and paintings by Allen Kozowski, Randy Broeker, and others, as well as with classic artwork by Hannes Bok, Lee Brown Coye and the great Virgil Finlay. This is a quality production from the word go. It comes in a slipcase and is one of a signed limited edition of only 200. In other words, this was a really really nice gift. Thanks Cliff!

Weekend Report

Christmas came and went, leaving barely a ripple this year. I just couldn't work up much interest. Not a 'bah-humbug' but more of a 'meh.' That's how it goes sometimes, I suppose. I did get some neat stuff and people seemed pleased with the gifts I gave, so we'll call it a success on that level. Anyway, I'm still off for more than a week, so life is good.
I didn't read much fiction over the weekend. A few short stories and some comic books. The one bit of Christmas reading I did was August Derleth's Solar Pons story The Adventure of the Unique Dickensians, which is about a row over a rare Dickens manuscript. Derleth is possibly my favorite Sherlock Holmes pastiche writer. His stories, though they don't actually feature Holmes and Watson but rather doppelgangers Solar Pons and Dr. Parker, are perhaps the closest in spirit to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tales of any of the numerous Holmes pastiches out there. As someone once noted, Pons isn't Holmes and he knows he isn't Holmes but he hopes you'll come along for his adventures anyway. Derleth wrote about Pons for decades, ultimately turning out more Solar Pons stories than Doyle wrote about Holmes. Later another writer, Basil Copper, wrote even more Solar Pons stories, pastiching the pastiche, if you will.
I'll devote an entire post to Solar Pons soon. One of the more interesting characters to come out of the Sherlockian obsession.
I also dug out Savage Sword of Conan issues #219 and #220 and reread the Conan/Solomon Kane team-up I mentioned in Savage Memories #9. Still holds up. The art is still great and the story still rockets along.
I read a couple of Manly Wade Wellman short stories and several by Frank Belknap Long. I'll talk about Long in my next post or so. Got a nifty collection of his work for Christmas. Anyway, that's how the Christmas weekend went. A little low key, but not bad at all. Hope yours was good.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Misty Mountains Cold

Holiday greetings from Middle Earth. This is Kharrn the Barbarian on his giant goat, Rambam, riding through the Misty Mountains. What? You don't remember giant goats in Tolkien? Me neither. But who cares? It's a game. Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Plans

So here's what I'm looking at. I have to work half a day tomorrow, and then I'm off until I return to work on January Third, so I have 11 days off in a row, which is pretty sweet. I will be doing much reading and watching of movies during that time. Tonight is my first actual Christmas function and I have one on Christmas Eve and one Christmas Day. After that I'm free to goof off until the New Year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Morning at the Bookstore

I went to Barnes & Noble this morning to drink coffee and browse. I picked up a cinnamon dolce latte at the Starbucks next door to the bookstore and then began roaming the shelves, beginning with the Mystery section. The first thing that caught my eye was the word Pemberly. Jane Austen fan that I am, I had to have a look to see what author was doing their take on Jane Austen's work this time. (Pretty much everyone does at one time or another. I even have a sword and sorcery plot for Regency England. Don't dare me. I'll write it. Then you'll be sorry.) I was somewhat surprised to find that it was a new mystery by P.D. James, one of the great ladies of British Mystery. Apparently James is also a big admirer of Austen. I might have to give that one a try at some point.
The I spotted a book called Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making, which is John Curran's follow up to his earlier book, Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks. I enjoyed the first book immensely. It was fascinating to read Christie's notes about writing her novels. I've told the story here before of how I once read 23 Christie books in a row and wrote down outlines of the plots to understand how to plot whodunits. This was suggested by mystery novelist Carolyn G. Hart, who provided the list of books in an article in Mystery Scene Magazine. I recommend the exercise to anyone considering writing traditional mystery novels. Christie is still hard to beat in terms of plot.
Anyway, the new book looks to be more of the same. It too, I'll probably pick up after the Holidays.
Then I bumped over to the SF/Fantasy section and had a look around. Still too many Tolkien clones, but now salted with too many Game of Thrones wannabes and far far too many Anita Blake knock-offs. I did find a nice new collection of the short stories of Fritz Leiber which I picked up. Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories, from Nightshade Books has a nice balance of Leibers' fiction. Some horror. Some SF. A few Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories. It has an introduction by Neil Gaiman, which I was pleased about until I read said introduction and found a dig at Robert E. Howard (or more precisely, at Conan) that I may come back to for a later post. Or I'll just point it out to Al Harron and than Gaiman will rue the day. (Really it's fairly mild but I didn't like it.)
I didn't make it to the history section, figuring I'd just see more stuff I wanted to buy. I try to spend more money on others than on myself at Christmas. heh. Week after next though, the kid gloves are off.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

There Was a Crooked Man

While digging around on the net for information on Manly Wade Wellman, I came across a mention of a Hellboy comic book story that was apparently done in homage to Wellman's John the Balladeer, called The Crooked Man. Since one of my best friends owns a comic book store it wasn't too difficult for me to get a copy of the trade paperback reprinting the three issue mini series. I picked it up Wednesday and read the story last night. Great story. Not an adaptation of a Wellman yarn, but something done in the spirit of Wellman's stories. In fact The Crooked Man almost feels as if Wellman came back from the great beyond to lend writer Mike Mignola a hand with the script.
The story takes place in 1958, and finds Hellboy in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia where a woman has apparently been put into a coma by a witch. She's been struck by a 'witchball'. What's a witchball? Read the story and find out.
As Hellboy begins to investigate, a man named Tom Ferell appears. Seems Tom used to live in the area twenty years earlier but disappeared after some mysterious occurences and the deaths of his parents. Now Tom's back from his wandering to set things aright, but that will bring he and Hellboy into conflict with the titular Crooked man, a lesser aspect of Satan, but nothing to be trifled with.
In some ways Tom stands in for John the Balladeer as he and Hellboy hike up into the mountains to face witches, zombies, demon familiars, and all kinds of dark creatures. The story is filled with mountain folklore just as Manly Wade Wellman's tales were and Mignola manages to catch the dialog of the back woods folks just as Wellman did. It is indeed a fine, creepy homage. The story is illustrated by Richard Corben who does a great job of drawing deep woods, hound dogs, and creatures from hell.
Fans of Manly Wade Wellman will want to pick up this collection, not only because of the story itself, but because of two nice essay's on Wellman. Mignola talks about what a big influence John the Balladeer was in his creation of Hellboy, and then there's a wonderful four page appreciation in the back of the book by writer/editor John Pelan, a man who knows his Wellman. I learned from this essay that Wellman actually created DC Comics' supernatural hero The Phantom Stranger. You think I'd have known that, but I didn't.
Anyway, The Crooked Man is a great comic, and a nice tribute to Manly Wade Wellman. The other stories in the collection are darn good too. (Can you say Headless Ghost Pirate?) In fact I need to start picking up more of the Hellboy collections. I've been missing out on some good stuff.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nothing Says Merry Christmas Like...

So I have a cousin who's really into Roman history. For years I've given him books about ancient Rome. This year I had planned to give him something different, a Cold Steel training Gladius. This is a practice sword made of very tough plastic in the same size as a real Roman short sword. Cold steel actually makes a wide variety of practice weapons out of this hard, durable material. (They also have a very nice real Scottish Dirk I have my eye on for after the Holidays.) Think of them as high tech bokens. Anyway, when I got it out of the box I was so taken with it that I decided to keep it. Merry Christmas to me. My cousin will be fine with another book...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thunstone Redux

A while back I mentioned that next year Haffner Press would be publishing The Complete John Thunstone, a big volume collecting all the short stories and two novels about Manly Wade Wellman's occult investigator. Got an email this morning from Stephen Haffner about upcoming titles from Haffner Press. The blurb about the Thunstone volume included a preliminary drawing for the cover by artist Raymond Swanland. Keep in mind that this isn't the finished cover. Looks pretty nifty though.
Between this book from Haffner and the two volume Karl Edward Wagner horror collection from Centipede Press, 2012 looks to be a good year for Southern Horror and Fantasy writers. I'm hoping that now that all the Hok, Thunstone, and John the Balladeer stories are back in print, that someone will put together a new collection of Wellman's other horror stories, the ones that appeared in Carcosa Press's Worst Things Waiting and in The Valley So Low. That would make the majority of Wellman's work available to new readers, which would make me very happy. I'd also like to see a collection of Wellman's Kardios sword & sorcery stories, but that would make a pretty slender volume. Perhaps a publisher could break up the Wellman short stories into two volumes and include the Kardios stories in one of those.

For those of you just joining us, I'm including the contents list from The Complete John Thunstone.

Table of Contents
The Third Cry to Legba  Weird Tales Nov ’43
The Golden Goblins  Weird Tales Jan ’44
Hoofs Weird Tales Mar ’44
The Letters of Cold Fire  Weird Tales May ’44
John Thunstone’s Inheritance  Weird Tales Jul ’44
Sorcery from Thule  Weird Tales Sep ’44
The Dead Man’s Hand  Weird Tales Nov ’44
Thorne on the Threshold  Weird Tales Jan ’45
The Shonokins  Weird Tales Mar ’45
Blood from a Stone  Weird Tales May ’45
The Dai Sword  Weird Tales Jul ’45
Twice Cursed  Weird Tales Mar ’46
Shonokin Town  Weird Tales Jul ’46
The Leonardo Rondache  Weird Tales Mar ’48
The Last Grave of Lill Warran  Weird Tales May ’51
Rouse Him Not  Kadath Jul ’82
What Dreams May Come, Doubleday 1983
The School of Darkness, Doubleday 1985

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Harald Hardrada: The Warrior's Way

John Marsden's biography of Harald Hardrada is one of the liveliest historical bios I've read. It's also one of the most fascinating. Marsden takes the hyperbole of the Norse Sagas and breaks things down into facts, using in depth research of historical records to get a better idea of what actually happened.
For instance, where King Harald's Saga, as related by Snorri Sturluson might say something like, "And Harald arrived in the land of the Rus (proto-Russia) and was immediately made leader of the king's forces", Marsden, using sources like the Primary Russian Chronicle, will then explain who was king at the time, what campaigns he was involved in, and what Harald was likely to have actually done in his service. Who Harald might have fought, what major battles he could have taken part in and so forth. Marsden's focus is on Harald as a professional soldier, which of course suits me down to the greaves.
Now you might wonder if this makes Harald's career any less impressive. The answer is no. Thing is, even if he might not have been the Norse Superman that the sagas make him, primary historical sources do back up most of the main points of the sagas. Harald is mentioned by Greeks, Russians, and others, and almost always in terms that show he was an impressive individual. By bringing the man into focus, Marsden has made the legend even more impressive.
I've also learned quite a bit about the makeup of what we now know as Russia and encountered tribes and cultures and peoples that I never knew existed, and I love learning stuff like that.
Marsden's detective work is very impressive. Using clues from the sagas (specific battles, names of people and places) he is able to give dates to many of the events that the sagas are unclear on and to clear up things like Harald's unnecessarily circuitous route to Constantinople as given in the sagas.
I'm about half way through the book and up to Harald's time in Constantinople. Looking forward to learning more about his battles with Arab pirates. Not surprisingly, the various Byzantine emperors often made use of their Viking mercenaries in the royal navy, since the Norsemen tended to know their way around a boat.
As I've mentioned before, many people have referred to Harald Hardrada as a 'real life Conan' and this book serves to further that idea. Imagine this seven foot tall Northman stalking red handed through the steppes and across desert sands, in pitched battles on the seas, and wandering the streets of cities like Jerusalem and Constantinople. Scenes to fire the imagination. And best of all, he was a real person.
This book came out in the UK in 2007 and hasn't been reprinted in America, so if you want to check it out you'll have to buy a used copy from Amazon or someone, as I did, but I've definitely found it worth the effort. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Savage Memories #10

In 1998-2000 I was living in Decatur, the Atlanta suburb I mentioned in one of my previous posts. Weekends would often find me back at the used book and comic store The Book Nook, still occasionally digging through the boxes of old fanzines and magazines, and occasionally I would pick up an old Savage Sword of Conan that I hadn't read.
That's when I started enjoying some of the issues that Chuck Dixon had written. Dixon had become one of my favorite writers at DC comics during the 1990s, when he was doing great stuff on Green Arrow, Robin, and other titles. Most of Dixon's DC output fell into the crime fiction category, so that was understandable, but I found that I liked his take on Conan as well. He seemed to like writing stories about Conan as a mercenary or frontier scout, and most of the sorcery he put into his stories seemed to be of the Weird Tales/Lovecraft school, so all in all he had an approach that, while not imitative of Robert E. Howard, still had the 'realism' factor that Howard was so fond of. Dixon's Conan was down and dirty. I still wasn't always thrilled with the art, but a good story offset that enough that I could enjoy it. So I built up a decent collection of most of Dixon's issues to add to the 60 or so SSoC issues which I still had.
And that was where things stood until 2004 when I decided to move from a rental house to an apartment.
If you're a collector, or just someone who reads a lot then you know how books accumulate. Add comic books and magazines to that and you have a good idea of how daunting a task moving all of that stuff would be. I had roughly 4500 hardback books, about that many paperbacks, and 18,000 comic books straining the foundations of my house. I didn't want to move all that, and truthfully I didn't need most of it anymore. So I did a little research and I decided that I would buy six new 6ftX4ft bookshelves for my new place and the number of books that would fit on those shelves would be all the books I would take along. (About 800 hardbacks.) I also got rid of all but about 1000 comics and about 800 paperbacks. It was a painful process, but I'm glad to say that here, at the close of 2011, I haven't missed much of what I got rid of. But there was an exception.
I had decided that I would keep the original 51 issues of Savage Sword of Conan that I'd bought as a kid, but get rid of everything else, and that's what I did. And for a couple of years I was okay with that. But then my interest in Robert E. Howard, Conan, and all things sword & sorcery swung back around to the front of my manias and I suddenly wished I hadn't gotten rid of the SSoC issues. In fact, I decided that I wanted a complete collection of the magazine.
And that brings us back to the present, since my acquisition of the full set was covered here on the blog a while back. It took a lot of Ebay watching and the help of the redoubtable Cliff, but I own a complete run of Savage Sword of Conan magazine. That also brings us to the end of the Savage Memories series. Doesn't mean that I won't be returning to Savage Sword as a subject, but this is a good place to end the tale of one boy/man's obsession with a comic mag. Thanks to everyone who has read these posts and to those who have commented. I can tell that a lot of you know exactly how I feel.

PS. The cover that accompanies this post is my favorite Joe Jusko SSoC cover and the first one I bought when I began my quest to get all of the issues.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Conan the Undead?

Undead Conan was the phrase used in several previews of the new BOOM series, Valen the Outcast. It's somewhat apt in that the protagonist, Valen, is the former monarch of a Kingdom not unlike Aquilonia, but since Valen's entire origin hasn't been revealed I don't know about his background before becoming king. I don't get the idea that he was a barbarian, but hey, this is issue one. He is, however, a great big guy with a sword and a bad attitude. Oh and he's dead.
Well, he's technically undead, since he's walking around and talking, a sentient zombie as it were and he can only be er.. re-killed by having his heart pierced or his head cut off. Other wounds just make him mad. A necromancer named Korrus Nullus killed Valen on the battlefield and cursed him with 'unlife', as he apparently does with a lot of folks, who then become his thralls, but Valen somehow managed to escape being controlled by the sorcerer and now he's out for some payback. All and all, not a bad concept for a sword & sorcery comic.
The first issue zips along with sharp writing from Michael Alan Nelson and dark, moody art by Matteo Scalera. Both men seem well suited to the title, though I'm not familiar with either of them from other comics work. My only complaint is that the coloring, which is a bit too dark, often obscures the artwork and it can be hard to tell what's going on in some panels. (The fact that the borders between the panels are colored black doesn't help.)
Overall though, I enjoyed the first issue. It's not really Undead Conan, but it does have a nice S&S dark fantasy vibe, and the first issue is available for a buck. Give it a shot.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Good Press

A nice mention of the Strange Worlds anthology (with my story Slavers of Trakor) over at Black Gate Magazine's site. Thanks guys!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Savage Memories #9

It was a very sharp cover by British artist Colin Macneil that brought Savage Sword of Conan back to my attention in 1994. The cover was for issue #219, and I recall seeing it on the racks at the comic book store. I really liked the cover painting with the massive, ax-wielding Conan. Looking closer I saw that this issue contained an honest to gosh crossover between Robert E. Howard's arguably two most famous characters, Conan the Cimmerian and Solomon Kane the Puritan. Sucker for a crossover that I am, I was dubious. I didn't figure anyone but Roy Thomas could have pulled off that particular team-up and Roy was long gone. Still, I picked up the issue and flipped through it.
I liked Colin Macneil's black and white art even more than his cover painting. He drew a big, mean Conan and he actually made use of the magazine's black & white format, laying on the heavy shadows and using cross hatching to suggest forms and textures. And lo and behold, the story was written by none other than the man himself, Roy Thomas. Unbeknownst to me, Thomas had returned to writing for Marvel and had taken over the writing on Savage Sword of Conan with issue #190 in 1991. Shows how far off my radar the series was.
So I bought the magazine and read it. Thomas had taken REH's very short Solomon Kane fragment Death's Black Riders and used it as a springboard for an adventure that spanned centuries. (Riders is left intact in the adaptation and Macneil's moody art on those few pages is worth the price of admission itself.) Conan and Kane each have an adventure in the same Opar like Atlantean city, each man in his own time, but then sorcery brings the two of them together for the second part of the story. Yes, it was a continued story, so I ended up buying issue #220 as well.
Along with using Death's Black Riders, Thomas does a fine job of weaving elements from the REH Solomon Kane tale The Moon of Skulls and what little we know of Conan's adventures in ancient Africa into an action packed sword & sorcery yarn. It's interesting that Thomas decided to portray Kane in his later years, gray haired, but still a dangerous swordsman. There's also some fun stuff juxtaposing Kane's devout Christian beliefs with what he sees as Conan's pagan religion. All and all, a lot of fun.
And those were my last two new issues of Savage Sword of Conan. The series would limp along for 15 more issues before being cancelled. The color comic, Conan the Barbarian had already succumbed to poor sales. Marvel's 25 year run with the character of Conan was almost done

Monday, December 05, 2011

Savage Memories #8

Back before my buddy Cliff Biggers opened his comic book store Dr. No's, the closest comic shop to me was the original Book Nook on Claremont Road in Decatur. (It has since moved and I've never been to the new location.) Decatur is a suburb of Atlanta and it was a good 45 minute drive from my home in Canton when I was a teenager. Still, every couple of weeks I would jump into my beat up Mustang Mach One and trundle down to the Book Nook. They had a pretty complete selection of Marvel and DC comics and they carried independent comics too. This was important since I had become a rabid fan of Dave Sim's Cerebus and the Book Nook was the only place I could get it. (They were also a used bookstore and I bought literally hundreds of old paperbacks there.)
And they had a lot of boxes on the floor under the racks of new comics, which contained unbagged and unboarded comics, magazines, and fanzines. After discovering Cerebus, Elf Quest, Tandra, and other independent comics, I started actively buying old fanzines and earlier self published comics. Book Nook was a treasure trove of these, but you had to dig, and dig I did.
So one day, in maybe 1982 or 1983, I was digging through the boxes and came across a battered copy of Savage Sword of Conan issue #61. I flipped through it and found that it had been both penciled and inked by John Buscema. I've explained before that Buscema was and is my biggest influence as a cartoonist. My stuff probably looks more like his than anyone else's to this day. Anyway, I loved it when Buscema inked his own work. There was a lush and seductive quality to his brushwork and the finished art had a personality and energy to it that wasn't present when Buscema's art was inked by others. So of course I had to buy it. I dug around and found a few more issues with art I liked and left the Book Nook that day with half a dozen or so back issues of SSoC.
Now I'd like to say that this reignited my interest in Conan and the magazine, but it didn't. I was there purely for the art. So whenever I was at Book Nook after that, I would check for back issues with Buscema artwork. I found a couple more that he both penciled and inked, but the major portion of the magazines were inked by other hands.
Not long after this, Cliff opened Dr. No's (Or more precisely he bought the store from its previous owner, but Cliff's store was so different from the original incarnation that it might as well have been a new store.) and my life took a major change. Not only did I have a comics store a mere fifteen minutes away, but I soon became good friends with the owner and that would lead to meeting many of the other people who are still among my best friends these days.
But back to Conan. Since I was frequenting Cliff's comic shop, I still saw new issues of Savage Sword of Conan on the stands. Occasionally I would flip through them, but I seldom found the art to my liking. John Buscema had moved on and I didn't care for most of the artists who followed him. I also hadn't thought much of the writing in the back issues I'd read, so the magazine was pretty much a wash out as far as I was concerned.
The first new issue of SSoC I bought after abandoning the magazine in 1980 was issue #149 in 1988 and that was because, again, I liked the art. Penciler Tom Grindberg was in his Neal Adams period then and Bob McLeod, a favorite inker, did the inks. I really liked the final look of the combined talents of Grindberg and McLeod. The story, by a fellow named Chuck Dixon was pretty decent too. However this was during the period when I still had little interest in fantasy or sword & sorcery, so two more years passed before I bought another issue. This was issue #176, which had art by Timothy Truman and a couple of other guys I knew mostly from First Comics, (a now defunct comic book publisher) and another good story from this Dixon guy. I believe this was Truman's first work on Conan, long before he would become writer and occasional artist for the character at Dark Horse comics.
After that issue, four more years would pass before I'd pick up a new issue of Savage Sword.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Joining the Dark Side

My friend Cliff loaned me his Kindle for the weekend. I'd been wanting to try an e-reader and since Cliff had just finished the same book I'm currently reading, Stephen King's 11/22/63, he figured this would be a good time for me to finally give the world of e-books a try.
I must say, I didn't hate it. The Kindle is considerably lighter than the actual 849 page book which makes it a lot easier to read when I'm lying on the floor on my back, as I often do while reading. The screen is very clear and easy on the eyes. I had no trouble making the jump at all.
But, and you knew there would be a but, I'm still one of those guys who loves books. I just got a copy of the original Lancer release of Michael Moorcock's The Stealer of Souls with the Jack Gaughan cover featuring the infamous 'tall pointy hat' version of Elric, and I am absolutely tickled to own it. I love books. I suspect that I will always love books.
However I could see a lot of books that I'd be perfectly happy to own on an e-reader because I am more interested in the information in the book than the book itself. The convenience and portability of the Kindle has definitely impressed me. It would be great to take on vacation. It would also be handy over a weekend when I realize I need a book on fencing in Elizabethan era Venice and I need it NOW! (And yes that sort of thing does happen.)
So yeah, I can see an e-reader being a probable purchase in the not too distant future. Thanks, Cliff!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Savage Memories #7

1980 was a big year for me. It was the year I finally managed to read the Lord of the Rings all the way through. It was the year I discovered crime fiction. And it was the year I stopped reading Savage Sword of Conan.
There were a couple of contributing factors for my abandoning the magazine. The first was the aforementioned discovery of the wild world of hardboiled fiction. I read a book called A Tan and Sandy Silence by John D. MacDonald and it changed my world. Reading MacDonald led to reading Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett which led to reading Robert B. Parker and Max Allan Collins and so on, and that pretty much ended my reading of fantasy and science fiction for a couple of decades. I've told that story here before, so I'll just reiterate that I have an obsessive personality and when I leap into something, I tend to do it whole hog. I was worse when I was a kid, so basically guns were in and swords were out.
Then there was what I considered the declining quality of the stories in the magazine. Most of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories had been adapted by 1980 and SSoC was featuring various Conan-nizations of non Conan REH and also adaptations of some of the Conan pastiches by other authors. I got through the adaptation of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter's Conan the Buccaneer mostly on the strength of John Buscema's art, but by the time SSoC got around to adapting de Camp/Carter's Conan the Liberator, I was losing interest fast. I can actually remember the panel in issue #51 that pushed me over the edge. I have reproduced it here. Something about all those sawed off satyrs just irritated the heck out of me. This was not what Conan was supposed to be about, and even with the Buscema art and the great Earl Norem cover, I just couldn't get worked up over Conan fighting a bunch of Mr. Tumnus's cousins.
And that was pretty much it for me and Savage Sword of Conan. There wasn't any conscious decision to stop buying the magazine really. I just didn't pick it up with the next issue and soon SSoC, and the color Conan the Barbarian comic book had dropped from my radar. As it turned out, I'd picked a good point to jump off. Writer Roy Thomas left Marvel for DC soon after I'd departed and the quality of the writing plummeted. (As I learned when I started recollecting the magazine years later.) It would be quite some time before I returned to Savage Sword, and that would be too little and too late. More on that next time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

And Just in Case...

And just in case you want to compare the Roy Thomas/John Buscema version of the same scene, (see previous post) here ya go.

More Cloonan Conan

Comics Alliance has put up a few pages of the first issue of Brian Wood's and Becky Cloonan's adaptation of Queen of the Black Coast. I'm not going to swipe the "exclusive" pics, so I'll provide a link at the bottom of the page. Overall I like the art quite a bit, though I'm reserving judgement until I see more shots of Conan's face.
I do really like the last page of the preview where Conan says,

"And I promise you, if you don't put distance between us and those guardsmen on shore, I will drench this ship in your blood and that of your crew."

And then the next panel cuts to the crew's faces and they're like, "Wait..what did he just say?" . Very nice bit of visual "business."

Savage Memories #6

My last Savage Memories post pretty much closed out the really golden days of discovering Savage Sword of Conan. After that I always seemed to be able to find the magazine and I bought it regularly for the next few years, but the mania had passed. I don't know that you can be that crazy about something once you pass adolescence. I remember Ray Bradbury talking about his love for the Buck Rogers comic strip and how he lived in anticipation of each day's strip. That was me and the Conan comics.
However, there were some later issues that stand out in my mind. Issue #20 featured an adaptation of the Robert E. Howard story The Slithering Shadow. The artwork on this issue was fantastic. John Buscema's pencils were at their Conan peak and Alfredo Alcala's inks brought dimension and texture to Buscema's dynamic figure work. Plus, I love the Earl Norem cover, showing a Lovecraftian horror in all it's gibbering, slavering, glory. I need to devote an entire post to Norem's work on the covers of SSoC.
Issue #30 had an amazing art job by Frank Brunner on a Roy Thomas adaptation of REH's The Scarlet Citadel. Just gorgeous art and very creepy in some places.
Issue #24 was something of an oddity in that it adapted a Robert E. Howard story that Roy Thomas had already adapted in the color pages of Conan the Barbarian issue #4 with artist Barry Smith. Thomas wanted to give the story a longer and more in depth adaptation and he wanted to see how John Buscema would handle the story. Makes for some interesting comparisons with the earlier adaptation.
Issues #33 and #34 featured great art by two comics legends, even if they were adapting two less than stellar de Camp/Carter stories. Gene Colan did his usual fine work on issue #33 and Carmine Infantino penciled issue #34. Alcala inked Infantino and it's very interesting to see what he did with Infantino's design oriented art.
If I seem a bit focused on the artwork, remember that this was in the days when I was learning to draw and when I wanted to be a comic book artist. I spent a lot of time studying the art, so these things are imbedded in my brain. However I was also absorbing the stories. As I've mentioned countless times in other posts, the comic books were my introduction to Conan and to Robert E. Howard, and Roy Thomas's well done adaptations made me want to read the prose stories. Thus I'm a bit dismissive of those "REH Purists" who dismiss the comic books. Many many REH fans discovered Howard through the comics.
Anyway, those are the issues that stand out in my mind from 1976 to 1980. So what happened in 1980? Tell you next time.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Weekend Report

My five day weekend didn't get off to quite the start I had hoped for. Wednesday night, while leaving the Mexican restaurant where I'd just had dinner with friends, I wasn't paying attention and I stepped into a depression in the asphalt and rolled my ankle, leaving me with a bad sprain. By the time I got home, the ankle had swollen up to the size of a tennis ball, so I put some ice on it and took some pain killer. The next day I couldn't really walk on it, but I taped it up and hobbled up to the assisted living home to see my grandmother.
After that I went home and basically spent the next two days with my foot elevated. Wasn't that big a deal, as I had planned to spend a lot of the long weekend watching movies and reading, I just hadn't planned on it being enforced. I can walk normally now, but there's still some pain, and given what I know of sprains, that will probably be the case for a while.
So Thanksgiving was short. I didn't go to my brother's house for the annual dinner, so I didn't have any turkey. I'm okay with that. Thanksgiving isn't a big deal for me these days.
So overall, the weekend was fine, other than the ankle thing. I re-read David Gemmell's book Hero in the Shadows, which finishes up his Waylander series. I hadn't read that one in about a decade so I'd forgotten a lot of it. I was talking to my pal Brian, who I introduced to Gemmell's fiction, and he asked if anyone had stepped up to fill the gap left by Gemmell's death, and I told him sadly no. There's still no one writing the sort of action filled, hard edged fantasy that Gemmell did so well. It wasn't quite sword & sorcery, but it was close.
I finished that up and started on Stephen King's 11/22/63, which I commented on in the post below. Still working on that one. At 849 pages it's another King doorstop. As I mentioned in the previous post, the book is about time travel. Basically a guy goes back to try and stop the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Not exactly a new idea. But King gives it his own twist. The method of time travel only allows the traveler to go to one specific day, which is in 1958. So if the guy wants to stop the assassination, he has to spend five years of his life in the past. If anything goes wrong he could presumably try again, (Every trip is a reset.) but he'd have to give up another five years. Interesting concept. King does a great job of recreating the past as he remembers it, giving readers a glimpse of a world long gone. Oh and part of it takes place in King's fictional Maine town of Derry. And if you've been to Derry before, you know that means trouble. More on that later.
I watched a couple more episodes of the second season of The Walking Dead. You can tell the budget for the show has been cut by the shortage of zombies in what's theoretically a show about zombies. The writing is still pretty strong and character focused, but nothing much seems to be happening. The show's pace has slowed. Still enjoying it, but I haven't found the second season as strong as the first.
Did a re-watch on the David Tennant Doctor Who episode, The Christmas Invasion. This was Tennant's first actual episode as the Doctor and it's interesting seeing him getting into the role. This is also just a fun holiday episode with plenty of British Christmas trappings. I used to watch all the Doctor Who Christmas episodes on Christmas day, but there are so many now, that I'll be spreading them out a bit. I haven't watched last year's Christmas show since it originally aired so that will be the one I save for Christmas day, I think.
Anyway, I watched some other stuff and read some non-fiction and some comic books and I played Lord of the Rings Online a good bit. (Kharrn is level 72 of 75 now.) I also did a surprising amount of drawing. Guess I was just in the mood to sketch. Not much writing. Still recharging from finishing the novel and sorting ideas for next project. So there ya go.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

That Darned Stephen King

So I was just going to read the first chapter or so of Stephen King's new book, 11/22/63, and when I came up for air I was on page 124. I can't think of any other writer who can hold my attention like that these days. It probably helps that the book is about time travel, one of my favorite ideas for fiction, but really, it's just that King is so readable. He's just such a good storyteller. Truthfully I might have stopped a little earlier, but some characters from one of King's earlier novels showed up and I had to see what that was about and...darn him.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Today marks the third year that I have had two cats living with me. On November 22nd, 2008, my friend Trish dropped off her two cats, Bruce and Amelia, to stay with me while her Air Force Reserve unit was deployed to Iraq. I was originally supposed to keep the cats for six to eight months, but various upheavals in Trish's life kept extending their stay until finally she and I decided the cats should just stay with me permanently. (Though I have promised Trish joint custody should she ever return to Georgia.)
Bruce has now lived with me longer than he lived with Trish, and Amelia is catching up, so I do consider them my cats. (Though as Rooster Cogburn observed, no one owns a cat. We're roommates.) They are a constant source of amusement, annoyance, and companionship.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Coming Up

My to-be-read pile is toppling over as usual. Some of the books at the top of the pile.

11/23/63 By Stephen King

The Eagle's Prophecy by Simon Scarrow

Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins

The Silent Stars Go By (Doctor Who) by Dan Abnett

The Vault by Ruth Rendell

Looking good for Holiday season reading!

Monday is Better When It's Thursday

My workplace is going to be closed Thursday and Friday this week to observe the Thanksgiving Holiday. Since I have several vacation days left here at the end of the year, I'm going to take Wednesday off as well. Say it with me. Five Day Weekend. So since my weekend starts the day after tomorrow, today is kind of like Thursday. And let me tell you, as a guy who hates Mondays, it's much easier to come in on a Monday when you know you only have two days to put in.
So what will I do with that many days off? Well Thursday I have family stuff, and Friday I'm having lunch with my buddy Brian, and beyond that, no plans so far. I finished the rewrites on Blind Shadows this weekend so I may start a new writing project. Otherwise, I suspect I'll read and draw and play Lord of the Rings Online and write blog posts about some of that.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Conan: Road of Kings Issue #10

You know what I'm going to say. another great issue of Conan: Road of Kings. I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but honestly, Roy Thomas has done such a bang-up job as writer on this title that I have to keep saying good things. RoK #10 once again jams as much story into one issue as most other comics use in a six issue arc. Conan, still trapped in the city of Tarantia with a group of rebels, agrees to help them in an attempted Coup d'├ętat against the current king. Before it's all over, the big Cimmerian will have to hack his way through dozens of soldiers and one seriously pissed-off giant lizard. Artist Dan Panosian draws a suitably hulking, wild-eyed Conan, reminding me favorably of Big John Buscema. Go Dan!
As usual though, with Roy Thomas, it isn't all blood and thunder. Thomas again shows his skill at characterization and the ending is a little downbeat and Conan has to say goodbye to a comrade of whom he is perhaps more fond than he would care to admit. Thomas's Conan is human.
Anyway, next issue sees the return of artist Mike Hawthorne for the final two issues of this mini series. I've enjoyed Panosian's work a lot, and I'd certainly welcome his art on his own twelve issue Conan mini-series. In fact I'd like to see him on Kull or Solomon Kane at some point. I bet he'd do a great Kane. I'm looking forward to having Mike back for the finale though.

Still a Barbarian

Okay, okay. A few of you were worried that my Lotro avatar Kharrn was loosing his Conan-esque look. See, he's still all barbarian looking under that crusader armor. Now calm down, as my buddy Nav would say.

Byzantine Dreams

My study of the Byzantine Empire, set in motion about five years ago by my study of the Vikings, flared up again this weekend as I read Harold Lamb's biography of the Emperor Justinian and his Empress, Theodora and also Lamb's history of early Constantinople. Can't recommend both of these books enough. Lamb brings the same energy to his biographies and histories as he does to his historical fiction making for fast paced reading and easy comprehension of what other writers might have presented as dry facts and dates. In fact, one Lamb fan of my acquaintance went so far as to say he preferred Lamb's non fiction to his fiction. I won't go that far, but I can see what he meant.
Anyway, reading these books inspired me to re-watch the four part documentary Byzantium: The Lost Empire, which I own on DVD. Watching it post-Lamb was very interesting, especially seeing as how most of Lamb's information was still in line with current thinking on the Byzantine Empire. (Lamb's books were written in the 1950s.)
And that set me to re-reading sections of some of my history books. See how these things get started? So this morning I was thinking over breakfast that I would offer a guide to anyone who might like to begin studying the Byzantine empire. Just something to give you a working knowledge of the history of the second part of the Roman Empire and the influence that Byzantium exerted over history.

History Books:

A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich.

This is the cut-down version of Norwich's three-volume history of Byzantium. The best and most concise history I've found, covering the major events and the careers of the important rulers and citizens. Coming in at just over 400 pages, it includes a useful glossary, maps, and lists of Emperors and Sultans. If you read only one history of Byzantium, go with this one.

Sailing From Byzantium by Colin Wells

An excellent book for putting the Byzantine empire into historical context. in fact it's sub-titled, How a Lost Empire Shaped the World. Due for a re-read soon.

Fourteen Byzantine Rulers by Michael Psellus

My most well thumbed history book. Psellus served under two Byzantine rulers and was alive during the rules of others. This first hand account, though definitely biased, as are all first hand accounts, is still utterly fascinating.


Byzantium: The Lost Empire

I'm going to recommend that the person newly interested in the Byzantines watch this video before he or she reads anything. It will give them a good grounding in the subject and make the reading easier to follow. Then watch it again after you've read a bunch of stuff to help cement your knowledge. This approach helped me a lot. Available on DVD, but I think someone uploaded it to Youtube recently.

Nova: The Vikings

The section about the Varangian Guard has some useful and fascinating information about the later part of the Empire when Norsemen served as bodyguards and mercenaries to the rulers of Byzantium.

There you go. Pretty painless, eh? If that whets your appetite, I'll recommend the two Harold Lamb books mentioned above and Daily Life in The Byzantine Empire by Marcus Rautman, plus I'll throw in some fiction. Try Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn, which is about Viking King Harald the Ruthless and his time in Constantinople, and The Sheen on the Silk, a suspense/mystery by Anne Perry set in medieval Constantinople.

See you in Byzantium.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Fortunes of Kharrn

It occurred to me that I haven't given a report on the adventures of Kharrn the Barbarian in Middle Earth for a bit. Truthfully I haven't had time to play much lately. Kharrn looks more like Cormac Fitzgeoffrey than Conan these days in his Crusader duds. Don't worry though. I can still switch him back to his barbarian tunic with the flip of a switch. Things are getting interesting in the new expansion. I've run across Saruman a couple of times and there are other links to the books. Nothing super new in terms of gameplay, but overall Isengard has a lot of cool stuff. Mostly I'm just enjoying all the medieval looking armor.

Hi Ho Lancelot!

This is the new horse emote of Lord of the Rings on line. You can make your horse rear up just like the Lone Ranger and Silver. I always wanted to be able to do that in the game. This is my charger, Lancelot, by the way. Now if I only had a lance...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Savage Memories #5

I mentioned in my last Savage Memories post that I'd have to backtrack to Savage Sword of Conan issue #11 because I wanted to take the time to read the actual Robert E. Howard story on which the Conan tale in that issue was based. This was an El Borak yarn called The Country of the Knife. El Borak, aka Francis X. Gordon was a former gunfighter from Texas and an adventurer in Asia, primarily in Afghanistan, whose adventures took place in (for Howard) contemporary times. Not that this kept the stories from having plenty of sword swinging action. 1920s-30s Afghanistan was still a wild and wooly place, at least in the pages of Adventure Magazine, where writers like Harold Lamb and Talbot Mundy spun tales of adventure in far off places that would influence the young Robert E. Howard in the creation of his own Lawrence of Arabia style adventurer.
However, this meant that Conan scripter Roy Thomas had to do a bit of rewriting to turn Country of the Knife into a Hyborian Age tale. I've explained before that Thomas had two methods of adapting Robert E. Howard stories to the Conan comic. If he did a straight adaptation, changing very little, the credits box at the front of the comic book story would say 'adapted from the story by Robert E. Howard.' If Thomas did a good bit of rewriting, then the box would say 'freely adapted.'
I discovered the Marvel Conan the Barbarian color comic with issue #36, which featured a pure Roy Thomas story, not an adaptation, but within the next half a dozen issues or so, and one previous issue I found on a spinner rack, Thomas would adapt three REH non-Conan stories from widely varied sources into issues of the Conan comic. He adapted The Fire of Ashurbanipal, The House of Arabu, and oddly enough, The Purple Heart of Erlik . (Why do I say oddly about Erlik? Tell you later.)
So as you can see, a 'freely' adapted Robert E. Howard story was nothing new to me by the time I got around to Savage Sword issue #11's lead tale, The Abode of the Damned. And here's the thing. At age 13 or so, I still hadn't read much in the way of real Robert E. Howard, and truthfully I was probably happier with Roy's Conan-izations than I would have been with stories of El Borak, Wild Bill Clanton, and the rest. Forgive my callow youth, but all I wanted in those days was more Conan. With the exception of Solomon Kane, who I also discovered through Savage Sword, I didn't know or care much about Howard's other characters. All of that would come later. Anyway, the biggest change Thomas made in the story was changing one of the lead characters from male to female. In The Country of the knife, transplanted Englishman Stuart Brent is hanging out in his San Francisco apartment when he hears a scuffle in the hall. He opens the door to find one man viciously stabbing another. Brent hits the knife man with a whiskey bottle and the fellow flees. Brent is then stunned to learn that the victim is an old friend, one Dick Stockton, an agent with the British Secret service.
The dying Stockton tells Brent that Brent must get a message to a man called El Borak in Afghanistan. Brent, being a stand up guy, agrees, and travels to the far off land to deliver said message. Unfortunately Brent is taken prisoner by slave raiders who are traveling to a mysterious refuge for criminals called Rub El Harami. Along the way, a stranger joins the slavers and manages to aid Brent. Obviously this is El Borak in disguise, but that won't come out for some time.
In the Conan story, Brent is replaced by a woman named Mellani. Mel is a former prostitute who now owns her own small tavern. Late one night, after closing time, Mellani is pouring herself a drink when she hears a scuffle outside her door. She opens the door to find one man viciously stabbing another. Mel hits the knifeman with a wine jug and the fellow flees. Mel is then stunned to learn that that the victim is her ne'er-do-well brother.
The dying brother gives Mel a bit of information that she doesn't understand, and also tells her that his enemies are connected to the mysterious refuge for criminals Rub El Harami. Mel sets out for revenge against those who murdered her brother. Unfortunately Mellani is taken prisoner by slave raiders who are traveling to Rub El Harami. Along the way, a stranger joins the slavers and manages to aid Mellani. Obviously this is Conan in disguise, but that won't come out for some time. Except for the exchange of motives, personal revenge versus counter espionage, the narratives are pretty much the same for the first half of both stories, and of course, Mel is a chick. So why the sex change? Only Roy Thomas would know for sure, but I would speculate that the primary reason was that the El Borak story was lacking a hot babe and part of the mix for any Marvel Conan story was a hot chick, presumably to lure adolescent male readers in. (Worked for me.) In fact, many Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan covers featured scantily clad women even if there wasn't one in the story (or at least in the cover scene). This non-existent babe came to be referred to as Miraj by some of the comic creators.
As I read through Country of the Knife and Abode of the Damned, switching back and forth, I noted that the first half of Thomas's adaptation sticks pretty close to the REH tale, even using most of Howard's dialogue and many descriptions and such in the captions. (Thomas was really good about this, always striving for the REH flavor, even in his non-adaptations.) Thomas adds the other Marvel Conan requisite, a supernatural menace, in the form of three strange men with sorcerous powers who also seek the city of thieves, but otherwise events progress in similar fashion in both stories up until the travelers enter the city. After this, while some scenes and incidents occur in both stories, Thomas goes in more his own direction. The Country of the Knife is a very long story and Thomas understandably dropped a few of the subplots to make things work in the comics format. He was also building to his own climax, which is very different from the end of the El Borak yarn. So this one was definitely 'freely' adapted. Still, a lot of fun.
Oh, one more thing, as Colombo would say, L. Sprague de Camp, another man who Conan-nized several non-Conan REH stories, once said that it was easy to change the characters in these tales to Conan, because all Howard's heroes were basically the same character. I'd like to disagree with that. Francis X. Gordon is very much not Conan, and that's easy to see when you read The Country of the Knife. Gordon's character is much less serious in many ways, and seems to relish his disguises, being very much a 'method' actor when pretending to be a native. Sure, once the balloon goes up, Gordon can dole out the harshness with the best of them, but he's not the killing machine that Conan is. Sorry Sprague.
Wow, this has turned into a long post and I haven't even mentioned the fantastic art job on Abode of the Damned by John Buscema and Yong Montano. I'm including the splash page from the story, just so you can see how awesome the art was.

The Other Kirby Conan

Everyone is familiar with the Jack Kirby cover for Giant Size Conan #5, and the two Kirby pencil drawings of Conan that are all over the net, but there's one more Kirby Conan illustration that tends to fall though the cracks, and that's the cover of Marvel Comics' 1977 Calendar. The reason, I think, that this one slips by is that the piece is so heavily inked and redrawn by John Romita, but take a close look and you can see the Kirby poses and musculature on most of the figures. Romita may have redrawn Spiderman entirely, as this wasn't a character Jack seemed to have the feel for.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

That Which Remains

"He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century."

_Doctor John H. Watson, speaking of Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet.

Someone at work today made a joke about disposing of her husband's body in a woodchipper. I immediately said, "That doesn't work. The case in which that was attempted was ultimately solved because the chipper didn't get some teeth with identifiable dental work, and a large quantity of hair and bone chips were also left at the scene."
As usual, when I say something like that out of the blue, I got several glassy eyed stares. I didn't bother explaining that in a previous part of my life I had read virtually nothing but mystery novels and forensic texts. That's been over a decade ago, but some of that stuff stays with you, including forensic specialist Dr. Henry Lee's painstaking work on that case.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Belated Blogiversary

Once again I let the anniversary of the start of this blog slip past. Nov 1st marked five years of blogging. Hard to believe I've been at it this long. 2011 turned out to be a big year for the blog, with over 200 posts, reversing the downward trend of 2009 and 2010. Don't know if I'll break the 250 mark, as I did in 2008, but still, much blogging.
The focus of the blog has remained books, though obviously I've reviewed a lot of comic books, movies, and other media. I tend to think of the real focus as being stories, because that is my primary interest in all the entertainment fields. I am a card carrying story junkie. I can't get through a day without at least one story, be it a TV show, comic, short story, movie, or novel. I just love stories. I think it's the reason I'm a writer as well. I love to tell a story as much as I love to experience one.
Anyway, I'd like to thank all the folks who read the blog. I've made some new friends by having a blog, and those folks have introduced me to new books and writers and have challenged my opinions and made me think. That makes it worthwhile for me to sit here and pound on the keys.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I got a lot of stuff yesterday. Part of it was new stuff I'd ordered through the comic store and part was some used books I'd ordered from various people and part of it was new books from Amazon.
At the comic book store I got the latest volume of Titan Book's Simon and Kirby Library, this one featuring their crime comics. There should be a ton of stuff in there I've never read, and there's an introduction by Max Allan Collins, a man who knows his stuff about comics and crime fiction. Also got The Essential Sgt. Fury, which has a bunch of Jack Kirby art as well. Go Jack! And finally, the latest issue of the Doc Savage reprints from Anthony Tollin's Sanctum books. This one contains three of the shorter Doc novels, only one of which I've already read.
Used book-wise, I got two books by Harold Lamb, and we know how much I like Harold Lamb. One is Theodora and the Emperor, a historical biography of, not surprisingly, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his Empress, Theodora. The other book is Constantinople :Birth of an Empire, which is Lamb's non-fiction book about the same time period covered in the novel (plus additional history.). I figure the two ought to compliment each other. I plan on digging into Lamb's two volume history of the crusades after this.
Then I got two new books in the mail from Amazon. The first is Ruth Rendell's latest Inspector Wexford novel, The Vault. Rendell is my favorite living British mystery writer, and the Wexford books are always well plotted and well written. Apparently much of The Vault takes place in London instead of in Wexford's usual more rural stomping grounds, so I'm looking forward to that.
The second is Kevin Sorbo's memoir about how a stroke almost killed him during the third season of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. I always wondered exactly what happened, so this should prove interesting.
As you can see, my reading is as eclectic as ever.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Writing Report. Done!

Typed what should be the last scene on the novel I've been working on with James A. Moore and sent that to Jim. All that remains are any additions of Jim's and that's that. Currently titled Blind Shadows, it's a crime/horror novel with touches of H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, with a hardboiled attitude I think Mickey Spillane would have approved of, but it isn't a pastiche. So anyway, the first draft is done, more or less. So I'm feeling pretty pleased this morning. Until the rewrites anyway...

Monday, November 07, 2011

Savage Memories #4

I told you last time that I'd tell you how I risked eternal damnation by reading Savage Sword of Conan. This will require that I skip ahead to issue #13. I'm getting ahead of myself because my discussion of issue #11 requires a rereading of one of Robert E. Howard's original stories. No terrible hardship there, but I haven't had a chance to dig it out, so I'll backtrack there soon. Oh and I missed issue #12 at the newsstand. There were still occasional bumps on the road to collecting the magazine. (All of these missed issues would become a moot point a couple of years later when I attended my first comic book convention. Back issues anyone?)
So, issue #13. This lead story in this one was actually a reprint from the color Conan comic, though I didn't notice at the time. Roy Thomas and Gil Kane had done a two-part adaptation of Robert E. Howard's non-Conan tale The Gods of Bal-Sagoth in Conan the Barbarian issues #17&18. Thomas had Conan-nized this story, replacing the original hero Turlogh O'Brien with the Cimmerian (no great stretch) and Turlogh's sidekick Athelstane the Saxon with a Vanirman named Fafnir, who had originally been a one shot joke character meant to represent Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd in an earlier issue of Conan the Barbarian.
Gil Kane's black and white artwork had been toned with gray washes to make it look more like a standard issue of SSoC and since I'd yet to see the original color comics, this was a new story to me. Later, when I would read Robert E. Howard's prose story, I'd see how closely Thomas had stuck to the original. Thomas was a huge fan of REH and an often underrated authority on the writer's work. Read some of the text features in early issues of SSoC and Savage Tales and you can see just how much Thomas knew about Howard. As a result, his adaptations were usually very close (Save for what he called 'freely' adapted, which meant the story had to be heavily rewritten for whatever reasons, usually that the time period wasn't similar enough to the Hyborian age to work easily.) to the originals and his pastiches and Conan-nizations always struck me as far more authentic than the majority of the prose pastiches. Thomas's Conan was remarkably consistent even in the stories not based on the writings of REH.
Anyway, here's where the damnation part comes in. I mentioned in my last Savage Memories post that I had found an alternate source to Blair Food Town for the occasional issue of Savage Sword of Conan. That was Landers Drugstore in downtown Canton, a drugstore with a full fountain/lunch counter and a magazine rack that carried, among other things, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Vampirella, and the Marvel line of black & white magazines.
However, the problem with Landers was that it was too far from my house to walk to, and of course, I still wasn't old enough to drive. I could occasionally get around this though, because at the time my mother worked at a bank in downtown. The bank closed at 4:00 in the afternoon, so what I would do, was get a note from my mom telling the school bus driver that I could get off the bus in downtown. That way I could visit the drugstore or other stores in downtown and then ride home with mom. I did this a lot from ages 12 to 15.
On the occasion that I hopped off the bus and found Savage Sword of Conan issue #13 there was a problem. It rained. As I recall, I had picked up the magazine and left the drugstore and a little while later it began to rain. I suppose I had the mag in a paper bag, but I knew that wouldn't protect it. I had to duck in somewhere for cover and the closest place was The Methodist church. That was the church I attended growing up and in those simpler times it was never locked. So I ran up the stairs to the front of the church as the rain began in earnest.
I stopped in the foyer, not wanting to go into the sanctuary. The interior of the Methodist church had been made of dark wood and it was creepy in the sanctuary with no one else there. So I sat down in the floor to wait for the rain to stop. Gradually my gaze fell upon the paper bag containing my magazine. My SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN MAGAZINE THAT PROBABLY CONTAINED HALF-NAKED WOMEN AND BLOOD AND GORE and I had brought it into the church. The only worse thing I could do would be to read it right there in the foyer. I think I resisted for about 15 seconds. I figured God had forgiven me for worse things. With any luck he wouldn't send me to hell for reading Conan.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Savage Memories #3

As things would turn out, I didn't get copies of The Savage Sword of Conan issues #8 and #9. Once again I can only suppose they sold out at Blair Food Town before I could get there, still being too young to drive, though for all I know, they never got copies. Newsstand distribution was very spotty back in the 1970s.
Issue # 10, however, marked something of a turning point. I don't know if they started ordering more copies at the supermarket because every issue was selling out, or what, but after issue #10 I wouldn't miss more than a couple of issues until I stopped reading the magazine along about issue #60. (Actually I think it was issue #58, which would tie in with other things I'll get to in another post.)
Anyway, the other reasons I managed to get further issues were that I found at least one other source (a drugstore in downtown Canton) and I figured out how to walk to Blair's. See, Blair Foodtown was a couple of miles from my house, and while I certainly was up for the walk, my dad wouldn't let me walk anywhere that required I walk along the highway. Not an unreasonable restriction for a parent. There was one convenience store that I could reach entirely by going through woods and back roads (Canton was still very rural at that point) that sold color comic books (Yay!) but not the black & white mags like Savage Sword (boo!). They also sold Doc Savage paperbacks which was a plus a couple of years later.
I figured that there probably was some way I could cut through back roads and what have you to reach Blair's and after a little experimentation I found it. It was a long, roundabout path that probably involved a great deal of trespassing, since I was literally ducking through people's back yards, but it would get me to the Supermarket without getting too close to the highway, so I made it work. (So yes, you young whippersnapper fans, I really did walk miles to buy my Conan comics.)
But back to issue #10. This is an interesting issue in that it contains the last part of Marvel's Adaptation of Robert E. Howard's single Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon. The penultimate chapter had apparently appeared in SSoC issue #8, and the four preceding segments in the first four issues of Marvel's short lived color comic, Giant Sized Conan. I owned those comics, but of course I was missing a section because I didn't have SSoC #8. Still, I was pleased to see the end of the story. (Keep in mind that the Conan paperbacks were still out of print at this point, so I couldn't read the actual book.)
As far as I know, no one has ever collected all six parts of this adaptation under one cover. That would be a nice graphic novel. Are you listening Dark Horse!?
The best thing though, about issue #10, was that the story took up the whole issue and the entire thing was drawn by John Buscema, who was pretty much my favorite artist at the time. It's a great art job too, with lots of action and weird adventures and scantily clad women.
As I noted earlier, after this issue I was able to get most subsequent issues without any problem, but there were other adventures ahead. Next time, I'll tell you about how I risked eternal damnation to read Savage Sword of Conan.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Welcome to Wellman

Just in time for Halloween, a short story by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge, set in Wellman Georgia, a small town where it's best to stay out of the woods on Halloween night. This is a teaser for Jim's and my upcoming novel Blind Shadows, much of which takes place in the same town.

download the Pdf here:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories

I rarely review a book before I finish it, but Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories, is, rather obviously, a book of short stories, about half of which I've already read and the other half I'm looking forward to reading, and since the book came out this month, I wanted to tell everyone to go out and buy a copy, so I'm reviewing it now.
If you're not familiar with Nathan Heller, he's the hero of a long running series of historical private eye novels, the plots of which are always based on actual unsolved crimes and in which fictional characters interact with figures from history. At various times Heller has been involved in the Lindbergh kidnapping case, The Black Dalia Murder, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and most recently, (in this year's Bye Bye, Baby, which I bought, but haven't read yet) the death of Marilyn Monroe. Heller's cases span many decades and over the course of the series, the character grows and changes and ages in real time. The research done by author Max Allan Collins and his assistants is exhaustive, and the Heller books, in addition to being suspenseful mysteries, are fascinating portraits of other times. They are true historical novels, not just mysteries set in the past. The shorts are just as well researched and just as well written.
Of the short stories I've already read in this collection, most appeared in Robert J. Randisi's Private Eye Writers of America anthologies. These would include The Strawberry Teardrop, House Call, Marble Mildred, and Private Consultation. Probably my favorite of the stories so far, The Perfect Crime, originally appeared in Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe, a book of Marlowe stories written by authors other than Chandler, which came out in 1988. Later Collins revised it into a Heller story. In a somewhat amusing incident, I actually bought my copy of the Chandler book at a Brentano's bookstore in San Diego one year when I was attending the San Diego Comic Con, and I promptly carried it back to the convention where Max Allan Collins was a guest and got him to sign it. Only a true bibliophile would take a break from a convention full of books and go to a bookstore. The Perfect Crime is about the death of actress Thelma Todd and is just a great story.
Anyway, once Halloween has passed and I settle down to reading something other than horror and ghost stories, I'll review some of the individual tales in the Heller collection. But don't wait for me. Pick up your own copy of Chicago Lightning (lightning was 1930s slang for machine gun fire) and while you're at it, get a copy of the first Heller novel, True Detective too. I think you'll like it.


A couple of posts ago I talked about the upcoming Dark Horse comics adaptation of Robert E. Howard's story Queen of the Black Coast and the fan based controversy surrounding the choice of Becky Cloonan as artist for the series. Cloonan had recommended that anyone interested in seeing how she would approach Conan check out her mini-comic Wolves. I dutifully ordered a copy and it arrived yesterday. I was very impressed. Wolves is a dark, moody, and very well drawn comic with a nice sword & sorcery vibe. Cloonan illustrates guys with swords, a werewolf, guys in plate armor and helmets, and woods as dark as those in Conan's homeland of Cimmeria, and she does a great job. I liked the fact that the ending is open to interpretation too. An impressive little comic that puts me in mind of Karl Edward Wagner's werewolf story, Reflections for the Winter of My Soul. Anyway, anyone concerned about Cloonan's chops for drawing Conan should definitely give Wolves a look. I liked what I saw.

If you'd like your own copy of Wolves go here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Savage Memories #2

If you read my first installment of Savage Memories, you learned of my discovery of Marvel's black & white magazine, Savage Tales and how I saw, in that issue, an advertisement for the upcoming Savage Sword of Conan magazine. I ended that post without saying whether or not I managed to get that first coveted issue of Savage Sword when it reached the stands. The answer Never even saw it. If any copies showed up at Blair's Food Town, the supermarket where I got most of my comics in the 1970s, I never saw them. Later I learned that they tended to only get two copies each of the various Marvel black & white mags. If I saw them and didn't have enough money on me to buy them, (My mom would spring for a 25 cents color comic but not a magazine that went for a buck.) I did what countless comic book fans have done for years. I hid them behind the stacks of Good Housekeeping and Sports Illustrated until I could get back with the cash. The trick was to go grocery shopping with my grandmother. She would buy all the comics I wanted without batting an eye, and better yet, she never even glanced at them, so the somewhat gory/sexy SSoC covers slipped right by.
Anyway, several months passed and I didn't see any issues of Savage Sword. Then, one Saturday morning when I accompanied the aforementioned grandmother to Blair's, I spotted a very Frazetta-ish cover painting featuring Conan facing off against what appeared to be a group of cave-men. Yes! An honest to gosh issue of Savage Sword of Conan. It was issue #7. So six issues had gotten past me. But not this one.
The Citadel at the Center of Time turned out to be one of my favorite issues of the early Savage Sword of Conan. In this story, written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala, Conan runs afoul of a sorcerer who has found a way to pull artifacts out of different points in the time stream. The catch is, he has to put something in to get something out and the time pool he's discovered seems to prefer living beings to trade. Conan almost ends up in this pool (more of a well, really) but he manages to escape by fighting his way past cave-men, ape-men, and a tyrannosaurus.
This issue also featured part four of "An Informal History of Sword & Sorcery" by Lin Carter, and the first part of Thomas's adaptation of Robert E. Howard's essay, The Hyborian Age, with art by Walter Simonson. An all around great issue.
So now I knew more or less when SSoC shipped, you would figure I'd be able to get the magazine regularly, right? As it turned out, no. One of the problems of not being old enough to drive, mostly, but more about that later.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Conan, the Controversial

The announcement that the creative team for Dark Horse Comics adaptation/expansion of Robert E. Howard's classic Conan story Queen of the Black Coast would be writer Brian Wood and artist Becky Cloonan has set the interwebs abuzz with comments, not surprisingly many of them uninformed and premature. Just from the few sketches and one color illo provided, I've heard Cloonan's version of Conan called everything from Emo Conan to Twilight Conan. Other comments attached to the art include pencil necked, too skinny, too manga, and too much eye makeup. Here's the deal folks. These are preliminary sketches. Let's wait and see what the comic book looks like.
I have a few reservations myself but I had some about Conan:Road of Kings artist Mike Hawthorne in the beginning and I ended up liking his version of Conan enough to buy a commission for Crom's sake. What did I learn from that? My knee jerk reaction isn't always an accurate one. (No, no. It's true.) I was familiar with Wood (more on that later) from his Viking series Northlanders. Cloonan I knew not at all. So I googled around and came up with enough of her artwork to see that she's very talented. I also have ordered her self published comic Wolves from her website, which she says is in the Conan genre. I'll review it when I get it.
The main positive thing I've noted from the sketches and art is there's a tremendous amount of energy and character to her drawing. I think Belit looks great, and since at least half the story is hers, that's a good thing. I would like to see some drawings of Conan and Belit together to get some scale however.
I've made no secret that John Buscema is THE Conan artist for me. He always will be. But that doesn't mean that I can't wrestle down the rabid fanboy who lives in the back of my brain who is screaming that anything that doesn't follow Buscema's lead is wrong. It's kind of like when another singer does a cover of a favorite song. If they stick too close to the original people call them unoriginal and if they stray too far, people say they've ruined the song.
So anyway, trying to keep an open mind here, just like I did with the Conan movie. Yeah it was awful, but I didn't decide that until I was sitting in the theater. So I plan to give Becky Cloonan's Conan a chance as well.
As far as Wood goes, my biggest concern is that he is admittedly not a long time fan and reader of Robert E. Howard. But I know he can write hard hitting comics and that's a start. I almost wish he were doing an original tale rather than an adaptation. Maybe later. Truthfully, at the moment, the writing concerns me more than the art, but again, let's give the guy a shot.