Robert E. Howard Did More Than Just Create Conan


REH in a pensive mood

Today marks the 107th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Howard, the quintessential American pulp author best-known for creating Conan the Barbarian.

REH, as he known to fans, had an incredibly prolific and all-too-short career lasting from roughly 1929-’36. His powerful, evocative writing has always been an influence on my own writing, almost as much as H.P. Lovecraft. Like Lovecraft, Howard had a talent for painting lush, detailed scenes in only a few evocative words — although literary critics like S.T. Joshi dismissed REH’s prose as “subliterary hackwork that does not even begin to approach genuine literature.”

But, hey, Howard did much more than unleash a barbarian on pop culture. He helped shape modern pop culture by fathering the “sword and sorcery” subgenre of fantasy and contributing to Lovecraft’s horror mythos. Howard came up with a number of other vivid characters, including Solomon Kane, Kull the Conqueror,  Sailor Steve Costigan, Cormac Mac Art, Bran Mac Morn, El Borak and James Allison — notable for being disabled. I have previously looked at REH’s life, which tragically ended in suicide, so now I turn to his literary output.
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Remembering Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson and pals

Gerry Anderson with his pals, the Thunderbirds

It just keeps getting worse as entertainment legends continue to die. I don’t want to write another one of these. On the heels of the deaths of Jack Klugman and Charles Durning comes word that Gerry Anderson — creator of SPACE: 1999, UFO, THUNDERBIRDS and so many more science fiction TV series — died Dec. 26 at age 83 after a battling Alzheimer’s disease.

Anderson created the instantly recognizable Supermarionation process, using stiff, jerky puppets on strings to bring to life such shows as FIREBALL XL-5 and CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS. Anderson embraced the limits of his inanimate “actors” and made many of the storylines as outrageous as the puppets themselves. Somehow, the wacky stories made more sense with puppets; it was almost like winking at the audience.
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Remembering Jack Klugman and Charles Durning

They say celebrity deaths come in threes, but when it comes to the passing of Jack Klugman and Charles Durning on Dec. 24, two is way more than enough for me. Both character actors were invaluable to Hollywood, and I loved the work each of them did.

Klugman’s was probably the more recognizable name, and he had more success on the small screen, as sloppy Oscar Madison on THE ODD COUPLE and as the dogged medical examiner on QUINCY, M.E. Durning’s most enduring movie moment was playing the scoundrel governor in film adaptation of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Durning’s show-stopping song-and-dance was so impressive it must be seen to be appreciated:

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Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,

And with strange aeons, even death may die.”

Howard Phillips Lovecraft would have been 122 years old today, had he not died of intestinal cancer on March 15, 1937.

Long neglected by the public, but appreciated by a cabal of aficionados and most writers who came after him, Lovecraft was easily one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His moody, atmospheric stories set the standard for the extreme mind-bending terror that many subsequent authors would essay, but few would approach and none have ever matched.  Lovecraft’s field was known as weird fiction, and that description could not be more fitting. He wasn’t about the scare — although there are plenty of those — it was about creating unease in the reader. He worked hard to generate the feeling that if you were reading one of his stories at night, you mustn’t — no, DON’T! — don’t look behind you!

There were plenty of awful, hideous deaths in Lovecraft’s tales, but his terror was all in the language, and the horror in your mind. If you really imagine a doglike ghoul, isn’t it much more scary than a clear description in Pickman’s Model would be?
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R.I.P., Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, author of classic science fiction like Starship Troopers, Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes, died yesterday at age 91 after a long illness. The cause of death was not specified, but the Sci-Fi Grandmaster suffered a stroke in 1999 that left him using a wheelchair.

The white-haired, bespectled author was born in Waukegan, Ill., on Aug. 22, 1920, and was the last surviving member of the triumvirate known as “the ABCs of Science Fiction: (Isaac) Asimov, Bradbury and (Arthur C.) Clarke. He wrote novels, he wrote short stories, he wrote commentaries, he wrote screenplays, teleplays and plays; he wrote it all. His work appeared everywhere from niche sci-fi magazines to The Saturday Evening Post. He wrote for The Twilight Zone and (not surprisingly) Ray Bradbury Theater. He loved movies and he loved comic books. He loved creating, and he loved life.
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R.I.P. Maurice Sendak, Author/Illustrator, 83

When I heard the news that legendary children’s book author Maurice Sendak had passed away in Connecticut yesterday at age 83 due to complications from a stroke, I was very sad and disappointed because the world of literature had lost one of the modern greats.

Yes, Sendak’s work redefined the boundaries of kid lit; his 1963 classic, Where the Wild Things Are, literally rewrote the book on so-called “children’s books.” And yes, be brought joy to countless children and consternation to quite a number of parents who were unsure if letting a “wild rumpus begin” was such a good idea. But my special connection to Sendak was professional.

© Diliberto & Snyder

In 1998, Rob’t Snyder, a cartoonist friend of mine, and I created a comic book called Kid Terrific that followed the adventures of a small heroic child and his huge monster sidekick. We named that huge purple beast “Sendak” as a tribute to the writer whose big furry beasts had made huge impressions on us as kids. (By the time the comic went on sale, Sendak had become “Maurice,” but still acknowledged the same genius.)

The publication of Kid Terrific by Image Comics represented the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for my buddy and I, and we owed Maurice Sendak — and Where the Wild Things Are, in particular — a great debt for showing us how much fun dark and twisted tales for kids can be.

Thanks for all the great reading material, Maurice. And thanks for your inspiration.

R.I.P. Ralph McQuarrie

For my generation, conceptual designer and a matte painter Ralph McQuarrie not only painted space-age weapons, gadgets and buildings, he made them happen. Without McQuarrie, Star Wars would never have had the Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2 or X-Wing fighters that we know and love. The characters would have looked very different — and may not have proved as popular. Could you imagine Imperial stormtroopers clad in anything but full-body white armor?

McQuarrie, 82, died March 3 at his home in Berkeley, Calif., after battling Parkinson’s disease for many years. McQuarrie was a concept artist for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and TV’s original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, among many other projects. He netted an Oscar for his visual effects on 1985’s Cocoon. It’s terrible to think that such a talented artist might have been unable to even hold a brush in near the end of this life.
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