Tag Archives: Robert E. Howard

Long Lost Paperbacks No. 6

Let me just get this out of the way immediately: nothing by Robert E. Jones1Howard can truly be classified as “long lost.” His stories and novels have been constantly in print since the Lancer paperbacks revived Conan the Barbarian in the 1960s. Howard’s pulp-era stories have been recycled in so many volumes over the last 40 years that they practically rate an encyclopedia by themselves.

But some of these stand out from the crowd. The Book of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1, is one such. This Zebra paperback original from 1976 was edited by Glenn Lord and contained stories that had not been seen since their original publication in the 1920s and 1930s. The brooding poem Cimmeria was a particular favorite of mine.

Yet there’s something else that sets this book apart — the cover and interior artwork by Jeff Jones (1944-2011). Jones was one of the best fantasy illustrators of his day, but the man lived a… complicated life. More on that later.

When I first spied this paperback on the shelves in ’76, I immediately recognized Jones’ artwork. Along with Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, I considered Jones among my favorites, the kind of artist who spurred me to buy books on the strength of his artwork alone. He had painted the covers for Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser sagas, a series of books that I enjoyed immensely in the mid-1970s. In high school art class I had even tried my best to reproduce the awesome Jones2Jeff Jones cover of The Swords of Lankhmar, (shown at left). Jones also had a cartoon strip called Idyl in the National Lampoon, a magazine that was at its outrageous peak in the 1970s.

Jones’ paintings were atmospheric and dream-like, but the subject was always finely rendered, with excellent detailing. On this book in particular, the artwork stood out. There were interior illustrations as well, plus blue colored page edges, which probably contributed to the fact that The Book of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1 was more expensive than most paperbacks of the time at $1.95. A second volume appeared later that same year, also with artwork by Jones.

Despite his success (at least to my young eyes) Jeff Jones wasn’t the most contented soul. He married young and had a daughter, but Jones was never comfortable in his skin as a man. In 1998 Jones began hormone replacement therapy, changed his name to Jeffrey Catherine Jones, and lived the rest of his life as a woman. By most accounts that didn’t bring the peace he sought.

Robert E. Howard’s place in history has long-since been secured. It would make me happy if the artwork of Jeff Jones was similarly remembered.

Long-Lost Paperbacks, No. 1

Hard as it is to believe, the mass-market paperback book is on its way out. Of course, the rapidly evolving publishing industry is changing so fast that it’s risky trying to make predictions, but the short-term outlook for books seems to be narrowing down to three categories: ebooks; high-end hardcovers; and larger-format trade paperbacks. We’ll still see traditional mass-market paperbacks for a while yet, but the economics of the new publishing era work against them.

Speaking as someone who has embraced the ebook revolution whole-heartedly, it will still be hard watching cheap and portable paperbacks disappear from book shelves. For millions of readers, the mass-market paperback was the primary vehicle for recreational reading. In the hope that these artifacts of 20th Century popular literature aren’t forgotten, this is the first in an occasional series remembering some of the more obscure and forgotten titles. Although printed in the hundreds of millions, paperbacks weren’t usually intended for the long haul. The pages yellowed quickly, the spines developed creases after even careful reading, and the glue released its grip on the pages with frustrating frequency. They didn’t share display space on the living-room bookshelf with the famous-author hardcovers and the family bible. They were typically stuffed in backpacks or jacket pockets and casually traded among friends. For a bookmark, you folded a corner of the page. Most of them haven’t survived to the present day.

Almuric, 1964 Ace edition

With all that in mind, first up is a 1964 Ace edition of Almuric by Robert E. Howard. The creator of Conan the Barbarian is justly famous now, of course, but between his prolific pulp magazine career in the 1930s and, oh, about the early 1970s, Howard fell into relative obscurity. Much of his work was not in print. I vividly remember haunting used bookstores in the early 1970s trying to dig up old Howard paperbacks and it was no easy task. Later in the decade, thanks in no small part to the success of the Conan the Barbarian Marvel comic books, Howard’s work enjoyed a second round of fame, and everything he wrote was released in a dizzying array of paperbacks (most of which I still have).

But this 40-cent, 160-page Almuric title predates that revival. It is one of the smallest and cheapest paperback formats, intended for those crowded spinning book racks like you’d find at the drugstore. In later years Howard’s books were paired with amazing Frank Frazetta covers, but this edition’s simple illustration didn’t even earn a cover credit for the artist.

The Almuric story was originally serialized in Weird Tales magazine in the 1930s. It is reportedly Howard’s only “interplanetary” tale, with the hero, Esau Cairn, blasted across space to the demon-haunted planet Almuric. If you’ve ever read Howard, you can imagine what comes next. Robert E. Howard’s legacy is now secure, but it was cheap and accessible paperbacks like this that kept the flame burning in those long years before he was rediscovered.