Friday, December 1, 2023

Weird Tales From Cross Plains!

Robert E. Howard is one of the most successful pulp writers of an era filled with great talents. His production is epic in its scope and scale. And he only had an effective writing career of a mere decade. 
He sold his first story "Spear and Fang" to Weird Tales in 1925 and sadly killed himself in 1936 before many of his later works were even published. 

In that span he created a powerful array of heroes such as King Kull, Solomon Kane, Breckenridge Elkins, Turlogh Dubh O'Brian, James Allison, Steve Costigan, El Borak, Cormac Mac Art, Bran Mak Morn,and of course Conan the Barbarian. His work was popular in its day, and he created not only heroic fiction in sundry categories but horror as well in the manner of H.P. Lovecraft, a correspondent and to some degree mentor. Howard's fame diminished with his death and the passing of the pulp genre, but never did his work disappear. 

Many of his tales were collected in hardback by Gnome Press. But it was in the heat of the paperback phenomena of the early 1960's that Howard's fame was well and truly fashioned when his Conan stories were collected by Lancer under covers rendered by the great Frank Frazetta. These sold remarkably well and inspired Roy Thomas to try to license the character for comic books. Conan the Barbarian became Marvel's most successful new comic of the early 1970's and created sufficient interest for a movie to be made starring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger later in the decade. 

To close out the tempestuous year of 2023 I want to spend a cool wintry month revisiting many of those Robert E. Howard classics. I'll be revising and updating posts from across the years as well as creating new ones as I read through the entire Conan the Barbarian color comic book series as recently collected in Marvel's Epic series before the license drifted over to Titan. Sadly, this will not take me all the way through the Thomas years, but I might just leap to my Dark Horse reprint volumes and finish that as well, though I doubt I'll be able to report on all of that. 

I also plan to read as many of the original prose Conan stories by Howard as I can during the course of the month. My preferred way to enjoy now is to read them in chronological order as they were published in three handsome volumes some years ago now by Ballantine. These are the stories minus the amendments and adjustments made by L. Sprague DeCamp and Lin Carter among others when the series was first revitalized for Gnome and later for Lancer. And there are the other Howard heroes as well. Conan's inspiration Kull of course, as well as Howard's first hit swordsman Solomon Kane. 

And then there are the other projects inspired by Howard's creations in comics and films and elsewhere. Robert E. Howard was a somewhat famous writer of pulp entertainment when he decided to end his life in 1936, but he and his creations have become an industry in the intervening decades, supplying entertainment in all sorts of venues from cinema to video games. 

But all that aside, when you read a pulsating REH story from long ago, filled with tough dames and bloody-handed heroes it's difficult not to get a rumble deep down in our psyches from when some forgotten ancestor once had to fight just to keep a hard-scrabble life. 

Sharpen your broadswords and wipe the sweat from your brows, amigos, the battle doe the sweeping territories of the Hyborian Age is about to be joined here at the Dojo. 

Note: Throughout this post you will see all nine of the Weird Tales covers featuring a story about Conan by Robert E. Howard. Conan himself doesn't always make the cut, as the artist Margaret Brundage loved to showcase damsels in degrees of distress, particularly in various states of undress. Apparently, that's what sold. 

Rip Off


  1. I first discovered Conan via Marvel in March 1975 when I'd just turned 9 and I've been a Conan and Robert E Howard fan ever since so I'm going to enjoy this month!

  2. I was the similar to Colin and first encountered Conan via US Marvel (Conan the Barbarian #26). I was blown away and almost immediatly searched out the paperbacks. The covers to Weird Tales are excellent and are from a very different time and represent a very different Conan image ( the lady's remain eternal of course) . Excellent article Rip.

    1. Thanks very muchly sir. I appreciate your kind words and continued support here.