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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thrilling Adventures from Robert E. Howard

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thrilling Adventures from Robert E. Howard

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Two weeks ago, we followed Robert E. Howard out of our usual mean streets, and into the Shudder Pulps. Two-Gun Bob was our tour guide again last week, as we wandered into Spicy Adventures territory. Howard is a great guide through the pulps, and this week, Kirby O’Donnell takes us to the Adventure Pulps.

Robert E. Howard sold his first story in 1925, with “Spear and Fang” appearing in the July issue of Weird Tales. One of Howard’s first characters, written as a young teen, was a Texas gunslinger who roamed the wilds of Afghanistan and neighboring areas. Francis Xavier Gordon, who would be better known as El Borak (The Swift) was Howard’s attempt to get into the higher paying, prestigious pulps, like Argosy, and Adventure.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be an unassailable market for Howard, and he did not get his first adventure story published until late 1934. At the peak of his writing skill, he would, sadly, be dead in less than two years. And it wasn’t a more developed El Borak that got Howard into the market. It was a very similar, less complex character named Kirby O’Donnell.

My REH friend Dave Hardy has written two excellent articles on El Borak and Howard’s gunslingers of the Near East. The definitive essay on the topic is in the Del Rey El Borak and other Adventures collection. And you can find the other here at Black Gate, in our Discovering Robert E. Howard series.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Spicy Adventures from Robert E. Howard

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Spicy Adventures from Robert E. Howard

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Last week, we followed Robert E. Howard out of our usual mean streets, and into the Shudder Pulps. Well, Two-Gun Bob is our tour guide again this week, as we wander into Spicy Adventures territory. I’m kinda liking this REH theme, and I’ll see if I can’t follow up with a story from the boxing pulps, and maybe an Oriental adventure (which is not what we think of from that title, today).

In the early Pulp days, girlie magazines were known as ‘smooshes.’ The Great Depression hit them hard – just as with all the other pulps. And, they were under attack from civic and morality groups, as well.

In April of 1934, pulp publisher Harry Donenfeld, with editor Frank Armer (Donenfeld had previously bought out that struggling publisher, then hired him) created the Spicy Pulp formula with Spicy Detective Stories. Under the Culture Publications masthead, it took the type of hardboiled crime stories in popular pulps like Black Mask, and Dime Detective, and added in the racy elements of the smoosh mags. Picture Sam Spade leaving no doubt that he bedded a scantily-clad Brigid O’Shaughnessyy in his apartment.

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Upon the Passing of Giants: Richard L. Tierney, August 7, 1936 – February 1, 2022

Upon the Passing of Giants: Richard L. Tierney, August 7, 1936 – February 1, 2022

Richard L. Tierney

It was not long ago that I wrote an obituary here for Charles R. Saunders, the father of Sword & Soul and a man who showed the possibilities of sword & sorcery/heroic fantasy in non-European settings. Now, I must poor libations for another who took a genre’s flickering torch and in his own, and very different way, showed how to keep it burning.

Richard Louis Tierney (7 August 1936 – 1 Feb 2022) was an American writer, poet and scholar of H. P. Lovecraft, in the latter category probably best known for his essay “The Derleth Mythos” in which he clearly and succinctly provided a critical analysis of Lovecraft’s nihilistic vision vs. Derleth’s more Manichaean one, that had come to dominate “Mythos” fiction in the decades after HPL’s death. As a writer of heroic fantasy, he is best known for two major works: his series of six Red Sonja novels co-authored (with David C. Smith), featuring cover art by Boris Vallejo, and his Simon of Gitta series (which “reconciled” Derleth and Lovecraft’s take on the Mythos, through the lens of historical Gnosticism). He also wrote some straight Robert E. Howard completions and pastiche, including finishing two tales of Cormac Mac Art, and co-writing (again with Smith), a novel of Bran Mak Morn (For the Witch of the Mists).

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By Crom: Roy Thomas & Conan the Barbarian

By Crom: Roy Thomas & Conan the Barbarian

One Black Gate series which I have started, but is still for somewhere down the line, is a look at the first dozen-or-so issues of Roy Thomas’ Conan the Barbarian comic. And even before running that series, I’ll write one for the second dozen-ish, so I can tie together the various overlaps. This was prompted by a combination of the over-sized Marvel hardback Omnibuses, and Roy Thomas’ TERRIFIC (now) three-volume memoir about the series from Pulp Hero Press.

I never read the series, growing up. I bought some of the Dark Horse collections, which I liked. And when Marvel reacquired the rights and put out that first door-stopper compendium, I bought it. And I liked it enough to get the next three. I was buying them in conjunction with Roy Thomas’ Barbarian Life. The first Thomas volume covered the genesis of the comic, and the first fifty-one issues – which happened to be the same ones included in the first Omnibus.

Thomas helmed the series for 115 issues – which is how many are covered by the first four Omnibuses (both series’ talk about other issues as well). So, Thomas’ three books complement the Omnibuses perfectly. I read a story, and then I read Thomas’ insights. Along with the relevant commentary in the Omnibus itself. It’s a real Conan treat!

Thomas would write do other color Conans for Marvel. And he would also contribute to Dark Horse while they had the rights. But it’s that first run, when he was Stan Lee’s right hand, and he made Conan a best-selling property for Marvel, which fans revere.

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Rogue Blades Presents: All Good Things Must Come to a … Change!

Rogue Blades Presents: All Good Things Must Come to a … Change!

All good things must come to an end. Sort of. Kind of. But not exactly.

This will be my last Rogue Blades article for Black Gate. This doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere. No. One of my articles will still be here every other Friday. And no, I’m not stepping down as vice president of the Rogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit which focuses on all things heroic, especially heroic literature.

What is changing is that the Rogue Blades Foundation and its for-profit publishing side, Rogue Blades Entertainment, will be coming together on a new Web site, Rogue Blades. The new site will not only feature news about both sides of this publishing venture, but will also present weekly articles from a variety of writers, including myself. So I’ll be penning articles about the heroic over at Rogue Blades.

As for my future here at Black Gate, as mentioned above, I’ll keep writing articles here, but now I’ll have more freedom to write about other topics, many which might be related to heroic literature but not necessarily.

As for what I’ll be writing here, I’ve a number of subjects I’d like to cover. For instance, I’ve long been a fan of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct police procedural novels, and I’m considering a series on each of those books, though at 55 novels and a handful of shorter works, I have to admit that’s a rather daunting task. Other subjects I’d like to tackle are older tabletop role playing games that don’t see as much love as I’d like; Dungeons & Dragons is well covered online and even Star Frontiers has received some recent love here at Black Gate, but I’d like to take a look back at such games as Dragonquest, Lords of Creation, Car Wars and the original Deadlands, plus others as they come to mind. It’s also possible, even likely, I’ll sometimes write about fiction I’m reading or movies or shows I’m watching.

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Rogue Blades Presents: The Search for Heroes Never Ends

Rogue Blades Presents: The Search for Heroes Never Ends

The Howard House in Cross Plains, Texas.

Nearly three years ago I had the fun of spending a month driving across country in the U.S. with my girlfriend and her son. We started off in North Carolina, then made our way to Atlanta, through Alabama and down to New Orleans before heading further west to Houston and Austin before spending four days in Cross Plains, Texas, for Robert E. Howard Days 2018. From there we drove to Roswell, New Mexico, popped down to Tombstone, Arizona, for a few days and then went on our way to San Diego. From there we visited the Grand Canyon, spent some time in Las Vegas, and headed back through the beautiful state of Utah before spending a day in St. Louis. Then it was back through my home state of Kentucky and back to North Carolina through Tennessee.

In many ways this was a trip of a lifetime, and along the way I re-discovered a few things about myself. First of all, this trip brought back to me just how much I love book stores, especially used bookstores, antiquity bookstores, and regional bookstores that offer the unique. There’s nothing more I love than spending hours scouring through shelves upon shelves in hunt of the unknown. Often enough I had no particular books in mind on this trip, but allowed myself the joy of discovering books I had forgotten about or had not even known existed, or even books I had known about but were out of print and I had never expected to find one during my lifetime. The search was the thing, even if I wasn’t searching for anything in particular.

Secondly, this trip reminded me just how much I love heroes, for in many ways this trip was more than a vacation. It was a journey, an epic adventure to discover heroes, mostly heroes known to me, some heroes forgotten and recalled. Originally I didn’t set out on this trip to discover heroes, but the longer I was on the road, the more heroes I came across.

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Rogue Blades Author: Robert E. Howard: A European Perspective

Rogue Blades Author: Robert E. Howard: A European Perspective

The following is an excerpt from Michael Moorcock’s essay for Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, an upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation.

Robert E. Howard wrote directly in a tradition going back to the first great American hero Natty Bumppo and the first great American novelist, Fenimore Cooper, who shared the same puritanical suspicion of ‘civilization’ and authority with Conan and most of Howard’s other heroes. Based firmly on the legend of Daniel Boone, already fictionalized in broadsheets and shilling shockers published everywhere in America and Europe, the Romantic American was soon established as a popular figure of fiction and folklore. Indeed, on occasions the American ‘noble savage’ often sold better in what would be considered over-civilized European nations than he did in his native land (where the reality might have been at closer proximity to readers in Saint Louis and Memphis than to those in London or Moscow). This explained the massive bestsellers featuring ‘free spirits’ often found in the Gothic novels which were frequently selling at the same time! Romance of this kind would often be pilloried by more sophisticated authors of the day but not by the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexandre Dumas or Karl May (whose Old Shatterhand continued his career, like the others, in films well into the 20th century).

After Mowgli, Tarzan, of course, was probably the most famous popular noble savage to sniff warily at the over-fed minions of a greedy and uncaring civilization and indeed, until he was rather poorly translated into a variety of romance languages in particular, Conan was not widely well-known in Europe outside Britain (where Howard’s A Gent from Bear Creek had been published in 1937) until the 1970s via his Marvel Comics incarnations. In fact, he became better known in the UK than he was in the US, thanks to a young man in London named Tom Boardman, a popular figure at English fantastica conventions during the 1950s and ’60s, who had begun his career in his father’s firm at a very young age. His father liked publishing Westerns and Western comics in a very recognizable style, including a yearly hardback Buffalo Bill Annual with one distinctive artist doing all the drawing and writing all the scripts. He published through the Woolworth chain of stores a sepia reprint version of full-color comics from the Fawcett publishing chain. These fantasy comics revealed a niche in the market. He began to put out Captain Marvel, Ibis, Bulletman and a whole range of ‘science heroes,’ superheroes, and wizards. As a schoolboy I bought his publications wherever I could find them.

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Rogue Blades Author: An Unexpected Gift

Rogue Blades Author: An Unexpected Gift

Howard changed my lifeThe following is an excerpt from Barbara Ingram Baum’s essay for Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, an upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation.

May 25, 1995, marked a profound change in my life. Alla Ray Morris, or ‘Pat’ as we called her, passed away unexpectedly. When my husband, Jack, met with her attorneys after her funeral, he was shocked to learn she had bequeathed her rights in Robert E. Howard’s works to him, to his sister Terry, and to their mother, Zora Mae Baum Bryant, whom she had named as executrix of her estate. I could never have imagined the impact this gift would have on my life.

Jack’s father had passed away in 1971, and several years later his mother married Elliott Bryant, a kind, loving widower who embraced his new family as Zora Mae had two adult children, a daughter-in-law, and three young grandchildren. Elliott’s parents and younger brother were deceased, but he maintained a close relationship with his aunt, Alla Ray Kuykendall (‘Auntie K’) and her daughter, Alla Ray Morris (‘Pat’), who lived in the nearby town of Ranger, Texas. Whenever we gathered at the house in Cross Plains for holidays, Auntie K and Pat were always included, and over the years they became family to all of us as well. So even after Elliott died suddenly in 1982, the relationship continued, and every week Jack’s mother drove to Ranger to play bridge with the Kuykendalls and their friends. I believe she and Pat became even closer after Auntie K passed away. Nevertheless, we were stunned when Pat suddenly died and we learned she had included us in her will — it was totally unexpected.

We knew nothing about Robert E. Howard or his works. However, we recalled Zora Mae, Elliott, Auntie K, and Pat had attended the showing of the film Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the Paramount Theatre in Abilene, but Jack and I had never seen the film or read any of Howard’s works or talked about Howard or discussed the Kuykendalls’ ownership at family gatherings. I faintly remembered comments about Howard Days, but we had never discussed those events, nor had we attended. Interestingly, though, Jack’s mother kept a Conan calendar on her kitchen wall — which I know now was a Ken Kelly scene from “People of the Black Circle.” (You would have to know Jack’s mother to appreciate how completely out of character it was for her to have a heroic fantasy calendar on her wall. Zora Mae was very much a traditionalist and was very particular about her home and its accessories.)

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Rogue Blades Presents: Sometimes a Good Hero is Hard to Find

Rogue Blades Presents: Sometimes a Good Hero is Hard to Find

Beyond the Black RiverRecently I’ve been reading Beyond the Black River, a collection of Robert E. Howard tales published by Wildside Press. Within those pages one can find a couple of horror tales but also a handful of Conan the Cimmerian yarns, including the short story which gives this book its title.

When reading Beyond the Black River, the book or the story, it is obvious not only who the protagonist happens to be, but also the hero. The two figures are not always the same individual within a tale. For instance, Conan features large in most of the stories here, and he is the hero in at least four of the tales, but he is not always the protagonist. Sometimes Howard would pen a Conan tale told from another point of view. But whatever the point of view, Howard was mainly a writer of action and adventure, thus he wanted there to be little question about his hero in any given story.

Also of late, like millions stuck at home, I’ve been watching my fair share of television, which is actually unusual for me. One show I’ve watched, again like millions, is The Mandalorian. Here, too, it is obvious who wears the title of hero and protagonist with the ever-helmeted “Mando” performing both roles. I also caught up on the show Justified, a modern Western of sorts featuring Timothy Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens in my home state of Kentucky (it was kind of fun to watch all the things the show got wrong about the Bluegrass State); once more it was not difficult to pick out the hero and protagonist, here the same individual in Raylan Givens.

However, earlier in the year I read novels and stories and watched shows in which it was not so easy to pick out a hero.

For instance, watching the super hero show The Boys on Amazon Prime, there are a whole lot of bad people but not a lot of real heroes. Even a regular protagonist is difficult to pinpoint as this show has more of an ensemble cast with the focus on characters shifting. Early on in the series, Hughie Campbell (portrayed by Jack Quaid) is the protagonist, but by the end of the first season Hughie has been taken in as part of the broader cast. Also, while Hughie occasionally does something that is heroic, he generally is too reticent to be a regular hero. Still, he usually tries to do what’s right, at least for the moment, and maybe that’s all we can ask for a modern television hero. And I don’t want to leave out other characters, for Starlight (Erin Moriarty) is usually the most heroic of the “supes” and she also tries to do what is right, but she’s not exactly the hero of the show. Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher character plays large on the screen whenever he appears, and he does sometimes do the right thing, even the heroic thing, but I don’t think anyone who has watched the show would consider Butcher a hero, especially as his motives usually come from pain, rage and sometimes even selfishness.

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Rogue Blades Author: A Love Letter to Bear Creek

Rogue Blades Author: A Love Letter to Bear Creek

The following is an excerpt from Mark Finn’s essay for Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, an upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation.

Howard changed my lifeI’ve spent roughly seventy-five percent of my life thinking about Robert E. Howard, one of his many literary creations, or some combination of the two. It’s common when, in the bloom of one’s youth, a reader decides who their favorite author is and then reads everything they can get their hands on, indiscriminately. I was certainly no exception, and while I was quick to devour all the Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane I could find, I don’t think I learned about Howard’s humor stories until I was a senior in high school.

It was in the problematic pages of Dark Valley Destiny (1983) where L. Sprague de Camp wrote favorably (well, as favorably as he was able, which in this case, was fairly glowing) about Howard’s humor fiction; the fighting sailor of the Asiatics, Steve Costigan, and the lumbering mountain man from Bear Creek, Nevada, Breckinridge Elkins. Given that de Camp’s biography was so full of scant praise for the author’s literary output, these plaudits stood out in sharp relief against the backhanded compliments. As the single biggest fan of Robert E. Howard that I knew, I could not let this omission in my reading stand.

As it turned out, it would have to, at least for a couple of years, until I could get to a better class of used bookstore. I bought both The Iron Man (1976) and A Gent From Bear Creek (1975) at the same time at Austin Books, in (where else?) Austin, Texas. They were the Zebra editions with wonderfully evocative covers by Jeff Jones. I was stunned and a little disheartened to find out that Howard’s humor writing was, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, about 95% unpublished. Sure, A Gent From Bear Creek was available, but it was, at the time, at odds with the rest of Howard’s work in print. Specifically, it was hard to reconcile this picaresque romp of a humor novel, full of hyperbole and exaggerations, with the same author that wrote “The Black Stone” and “Red Nails.” If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t quite get it.

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