Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Howard Criticism: The Dark Man, Part II Fanzines

This is part II of my look at The Dark Man: The Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies; particularly Volume 5, No. 2, August 2010. Part I was a short recap of the Roy Thomas interview in said issue. Part II is a short look at the article "Fandom at Crossroads: Johnathan Bacon and the Legacy of Robert E. Howard" by Lee A. Breakiron It is a recap of the article and it is my lamentations for the by-gone world of fanzines.

Breakiron's article is an interesting one on its own merit. It explores the history of the fanzine Fantasy Crossroads, which debuted in November 1974 and was the child of Johnathan Bacon. It was not always entirely dedicated to the works of Robert E. Howard; however, REH did play a strong part of its contents. It followed on the heals of other fanzines which were dedicated to REH: Amra (which served as a "play-ground" of sorts for such big names in the Sword and Sorcery field as L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, John Jakes and Fritz Leiber), The Howard Collector (established by Glenn Lord) and Cross Plains (the product of the Robert E. Howard United Press Association [REHupa]).

According to Breakiron's article Fantasy Crossroads is best described as a "hobby publication dedicated to all aspects of fantasy but with a special emphasis on the life and work of Robert E. Howard" (Breakiron 118). Most of the Howard content consisted of poetry by REH or letters written by him or to him; some of the content that appeared in Crossroads was published for the first time, or at least had not been seen for quite some time.

There were some interesting items that appeared in Crossroads during its run. Some that interested me were  an article by Harold Preece titled "Women and Robert E. Howard" in which Preece records what he knew of Howard's interest and understanding of women (parts of which were later rebuked by Novalyne Price in her memoir One Who Walked Alone) and a series of scathing letter exchanges between Professor Dirk Mosig and L. Sprague de Camp in which Mosig tears apart de Camp's Lovecraft: A Biography. "...[de Camp's] detailed list of flaws includes 'amateur pyschodiagnoses' and 'colored by the author's hostile attitude towards his subject'" (124). On a side note, many would later level these same criticisms against de Camp for his Howard biography Dark Valley Destiny.

There was a good bit of fan art featured in the zine; unfortunately, the article only shared three examples, all covers and two are shared here, both of which I chose because they are by artists whose work I know:

art by Gene Day
 Gene Day is known to me for his work at Marvel Comics. He also illustrated one of my favorite Tunnels & Trolls solitaires, Arena of Khazan.
Richard Corben
Richard Corben is famous for many things, namely his work on Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. But to me, he will always be famous for creating his Den series featured in the animated movie Heavy Metal and of course the magazine of the same name.

Crossroads reached a good level of popularity and featured letters from the likes of John Jakes, L. Sprague de Camp, C. C. Beck (whom I revere for his work on Captain Marvel), Robert Bloch and Roy Thomas.

It was not the express purpose of Breakiron's article to appear in the same issue as the Roy Thomas interview, but considering Thomas' past, it is interesting that it did so.

Roy Thomas is a man who has done much for the legacy of Conan. His efforts rank with those of Glenn Lord, Donald M. Grant, August Derleth, L. Sprague de Camp, Frank Frazetta, John Buscema, Karl Edward Wagner, Rusty Burke. Before he got his big shot with Marvel, which pushed REH's barbarian further along the road to fame, he worked the trenches of fandom and published his own fanzine, Alter Ego.

In its day, Alter Ego was the premier fanzine. My personal experiences with AE have been second hand, mostly through the books of Bill Schelly. Bill Schelly was no slouch himself in the world of fandom. He would eventually produce the fanzine Sense of Wonder and if there were a fanzine that could rival AE in the world of comics, it was SoW. I would recommend Mr. Schelly's book Sense of Wonder: A Life in Comic Fandom. It is not directly related to Conan nor Robert E. Howard, but serves as a great historical memoir about the bygone days of fanzines.

I envy those that were directly involved with fanzines. I can not deny the power of the internet. It is great that on my blog roll I have instant access to others' thoughts on some of my favorite subjects (Conan, REH, H.P. Lovecraft, Mythos Fiction, comic books and role playing games to name a few); however, it does not have the same appeal as opening your mail box to find a new issue of a fanzine that someone took the time to carefully edit (or maybe not), staple together and mail out. I would love to have the satisfaction of writing to fanzines and seeing my letters printed, it is akin to the few comics I have written to later see my letters printed in the mail page--it gives a sense of ownership of something that is important to you.

There are some pretty sharp folks that are producing zines to this day for role playing games. I would love to see a zine about REH and his creations, especially my favorite barbarian.


Ralph said...

Ah yes, the glorious days of fanzines. I actually did a lot of stuff for music fanzines (mostly punkrock and associated genres) back in the early nineties. Hard to imganine now in the days of internet and social media....

Kilsern said...

Hello Ralph,
I think fanzines could still work and I would love to see it tried. If I had the time, I would do so myself.
Thanks for reading

Anonymous said...

I enjoy Crom very much. Interesting blog on REH fanzines. One small correction for you: Cross Plains was not a product of REHupa, it was an independent REH fanzine. REHupa is the Howard apa (Amateur Press Association)fanzine, compiled from the contributions of its membership and only avail;able to the membership.

Kilsern said...

Hello, thank you for the kind words and thank you for pointing out my error for me.

Mike D. said...

Kilsern , your recent postings have brought an added element to the blog. Since the humble beginnings on myspace to the current world status Reis and Cromsblood and myself have all pretty much had a specialty of some, Art , Foreign Conan comics , collectibles and so on...but the literary aspect of the concept was just not there. I enjoy your posts and once again...say welcome , welcome broaden the horizons here. I'm digging it!

Kilsern said...

Thanks again Mike. I'm having a good time posting here.