Hatcher’s Junk Drawer #11: Short Takes

Once again, some random bits and pieces that aren’t worth a column in and of themselves. Mostly stuff I stumbled across that provoked a memory, humorous things people sent me, and my latest podcast appearance.

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Since writing the Fugitive column a few weeks back, we finished Coronet Blue and embarked on a rewatch of the original with David Janssen. It really holds up, though I have to admit that I always am amused that, whenever someone is giving Kimble’s description to the police, no one ever says, “…oh, and GIANT fucking ears, man, like Dumbo ears. They’re huge.”

They really are. This thought reminded me that I wasn’t the only one that noticed. I remembered Mad magazine had done a piece making fun of Janssen’s ears as part of a parody product ad riffing on the idea that if Beatle wigs were a thing, maybe there was a market for other wearables based on celebrity facial features.

Since you can find ANY-thing on the internet, I went looking for the piece. It’s not posted in its entirety, but the original Jack Rickard art was on sale at Heritage Auctions.

As you can see, writer Phil Hahn also suggested a Barbra Streisand nose, a Kirk Douglas chin, and Burt Lancaster teeth, as well as David Janssen ears. The model on the right is a kid who gets each one added to his face until the final shot where he’s wearing all the items along with a Beatle wig. Talk about glamorous!

I remember this so vividly because it was in the first Mad paperback I ever bought, The Portable Mad. Originally published in 1971 but mine was the 1977 reprint.

I hasten to add that I was barely able to remember the cover and it was Doug Gilford’s wonderful index to all things MAD that led me to the rest.

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This just made me laugh. It holds true for columnists as well, believe me. I will add that at the old stand, I could always tell when one of my columns was promoted on the CBR front page because I had pretty much all these people show up within an hour. I could have played blackout bingo and still won.

In that same vein, this next one also made me laugh out of all proportion, because it was basically our reaction to the deluge of lunatics that swarmed Kelly Thompson whenever she wrote something that made male comics fans feel threatened or suggested that maybe arrested-adolescent hobbyists shouldn’t be the primary target audience for superhero stories.

Sharing it here so you all can pass it on the next time one of those ComicsGate guys or whoever starts ranting about what a betrayal it is for Carol Danvers to get her own movie but not Mar-Vell.

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Somehow, despite not really being a fan of Arnold at all, I got invited back for a third time to guest on the Schwarzenegger-centric Podcasta La Vista, Baby!

As always, it was tremendous fun. This time it was all about Eraser, a movie I like a great deal in spite of it being an Arnold vehicle.

Check out the episode here.

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A friend of mine wondered… “Why does Frankenstein Jr. wear a mask? Did he have a secret identity or something? He’s thirty feet tall!”

Never considered it, but now I wonder about that too. There’s no need for it. He basically just hung out in a closet till Buzz called him.

We may never know. But by far the best reply was, “I don’t know why, but I bet he could fool Lois Lane.”

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Our other Greg’s review of Marvel’s new Conan and his assertion about how easy it is to construct a Conan story is debatable, I suppose, but I think history bears him out. There was a while there when damn near anyone was able to publish a Conan story. Not even counting the comics or TV shows or whatever. Just prose.

I have read a fair number of them and I am hard put to tell you what any of them were about.

Tor Books, in particular, flooded the market back in the 1990s. I only saw a few of them but upon doing a little internet research, I was shocked at how many there actually were. All new, too, not reprints.

Which isn’t to say they weren’t good. The ones I read were fine. I wouldn’t class any of them as out-and-out BAD. Just not memorable.

Any of them is an entertaining enough way to kill an afternoon. None of them, though, have that Robert E. Howard vibe. I can’t tell you what that is, exactly, but I know that I never had any difficulty recalling the plots of The People of the Black Circle or A Witch Shall Be Born or Red Nails. But the pastiche versions… nothing. For whatever reason, they just don’t stick. I don’t know what the missing element is but Howard had it and these guys don’t.

Certainly you should never read a bunch of them in a row. They really start to feel by-the-numbers. That might very well be what Mr. Burgas was reacting to.

Of the ones I did own, only a couple survived a book purge I did a few years back– the hardcovers collecting the Jordan run, Poul Anderson’s Conan the Rebel, and Harry Turtledove’s Conan of Venarium.

Of those, Turtledove’s is the clear winner, because it tells the story of teenage Conan and Venarium’s invasion of Cimmeria, an event that is only alluded to in other stories; and it’s a different angle than most of the others, which are all firmly set in the middle era of Conan tales, the wandering-mercenary stuff.

Once upon a time, my fan OCD would have prompted me to collect them all, but thankfully I am mostly over that. I may or may not get around to the new comics but I don’t feel like I’m missing out in the meantime. I still say that of the legacy/pastiche Conan writers, the only ones that really nailed it are from comics– Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek. I’m willing to give the new ones a chance down the road, but honestly articles like this one and this one are not filling me with confidence about Marvel’s plans for the barbarian.

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And that’s all I’ve got. Talk amongst yourselves and I’ll be back next week with something cool.

5 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    Wow, I knew there was a bunch of non-Howard Conan prose out there, but didn’t realize how much until you posted those pictures. I remember seeing the Jordan books back in the early 1980s, although I never read any of them. I only read the stuff by Howard and also by Sprague de Camp and Carter in the twelve books that were put together to chronicle Conan’s life – because as a continuity-loving comics-reading geek I ate that kind of stuff up. However, I only really remember the Howard stories, and those are the only ones I’d ever gone back and re-read later.
    I totally agree with you about Thomas (haven’t read any of Busiek’s stories) being about the only pastiche guy who wrote stories that stick in your brain – and often he was just adapting Howard’s stories. And the fantastic art by Smith, Buscema, Kane, etc. helped make those stories memorable as well.

  2. John King

    i did get most of those Tor Conan books though not all of them (partially because the UK editions came to an abrupt end shortly after they finished the ones written by Robert Jordon).
    My memories are varied.
    I mainly remember Conan the Valiant as the one in which women could not keep their clothes on for 2 complete chapters (or it seemed that way)
    (though I could have it confused with another)
    I can’t remember which of Leonard Capenter’s books had a wizard abruptly burst into flames and die after Conan threw him at a rock and you had to pay attention to a conversation in a bar to find out why ..(the bursting into flames part that is, we don’t need an explanation for Conan to throw wizards at rocks)

    1. I had one of the Carpenters too… I think it was Renegade but can’t swear to it. Mine was a trade edition, not mass-market size like the ones pictured. I honestly can’t remember much of anything about it; except that the prose–meaning his diction itself, the words he used to tell the story– felt WAY off somehow. I have that problem to a lesser extent with all the pastiche guys including the early ones by deCamp and Carter, but you can tell they have a sense of what they’re supposed to be doing. By the time Conan arrived at Tor I think the feeling must have been that the authorial voice was irrelevant after so many years of Conan product being out there. Whatever the reason, Carpenter’s prose just felt too modern. I have to admit that one of the reasons I think Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek hit the mark better than anyone else is they had great artists on their Conan comics and that creates a little extra narrative push, it helps sell it to the reader. But even working in a different medium, you can see that they’re both still thinking about the actual narrative voice, the prose itself along with characters and situations, and trying to stay inside the lines Howard laid down, so to speak.

      I think this is also the problem with most pastiches of franchise characters like Sherlock Holmes or James Bond or whoever. The guys writing the books get obsessed with character schtick and set pieces for stories, thinking about them like movies. But the voice has to be there too. The hardest part about writing traditional Sherlock Holmes isn’t plotting a mystery or making sure everyone stays in character. It’s nailing Watson’s authorial voice. I’ve done five of them and it’s HARD. Thinking up a puzzle and how Holmes and Watson would react to it, most people probably could handle that, just from cultural osmosis, because there’s so MUCH material out there and you have a little wiggle room. But the authorial voice itself is key, because Watson narrates the stories. Miss that and readers fall right out of the story, even if they couldn’t tell you why.

      The thing is, I can tell you exactly what Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Watson narrative style is and how it’s built. I couldn’t do it with Robert E. Howard. Even when I was a kid reading the Lancer Conan paperbacks I could always tell which ones were pure Howard and which ones were the partials deCamp and Carter had bigfooted…. but I couldn’t tell you HOW I knew it. Every so often– and I’ve been writing about sword-and-sorcery and pulps for going on thirty years now, including publishing some fiction of my own– I try and figure out WHAT Robert E. Howard did and why it imprinted so hard on so many people, and what it is the pastiche writers are missing. I just couldn’t tell you. He was sui generis.

      1. I think it helps that Howard really took his craft seriously. The collected Conan editions I have include lots of notes showing how Howard developed his stories and he sweated over them more than he admitted. I never got that feeling with deCamp and Carter (who was also a much inferior talent as a writer).
        Reading the first Savage Sword of Conan TPB I was blown away by just how stunning the art was (although it had the side effect of making racial aspects obvious — like in Drums of Tombalku, where a bandit balks at letting his black comrades rape a white woman). I have trouble reading the stories that way — shrinking them from magazine size makes the lettering uncomfortable to read — but I can go through them focusing on the art and have a fantastic time.

  3. Rob Allen

    Howard’s authorial voice is indeed distinctive. Once, and only once, I’ve had the experience of reading something and thinking, “Robert E. Howard could have written this.” It was, of all things, an underground comic book – Psychotic Adventures #2 by Charles Dallas, published by Last Gasp in 1973. It’s not as good as Howard’s best, but it’s worth reading. Keep your eyes open for a copy; only 15,000 were printed and it has never been reprinted. Here’s a writeup about it:

    http://comixjoint.com/psychoticadventures2.html

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