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:

http://theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com/2011/12/25/the-sunday-salon-2011-in-review/

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!

http://www.blackgate.com/2011/12/01/new-treasures-strange-worlds/

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.