Saturday, 25 June 2011

Attempting A More Howardian Rewrite

Having read Lagomorph Rex's fascinating overview of Michael A. Stackpole's Conan the Barbarian novelization, I was struck by a few things.  One thing was that Stackpole made a lot of changes and additions that I would've made if I were re-writing this film: Conan's grandfather is mentioned, Venarium, greater care is made to have the world and events even broadly match what we know from Howard's work, etc.

Now that we've seen many of the characters and have an idea of the story, I figure I might as well post "Conan the Barbarian: Attempting A More Howardian Rewrite, Or, Let's Fix the Doppenheimer Script," with alterations rising from new casting decisions like Cheren.  I had written this a long time ago (16th March 2010, in fact), but because I wanted to include conceptual art of the characters as I would've depicted them, it fell by the wayside.

I've split the story into five acts, with a prologue and epilogue.  The acts are roughly twenty minutes to half an hour, while the bookends five or ten minutes.  At most, the film would be 2 hours 40 minutes, at least 1 hour 35 minutes: ideally it would be somewhere in between, perhaps a lean 2 hours. This is the best I could manage. I tried to include as many of the Doppenheimer/Lobel/Hood characters as I could, and as many of the plot points. It still isn't anywhere near perfect, and I don't doubt it leads a lot to be desired as a screenplay, but I figured I could at least try.

Monday, 20 June 2011

An Appeal for Atrocious Adaptations

Some of the regulars at Grognardia seem to disagree with me in regards to the Conan film.  Some seem to think I'm being unreasonable in wanting a film based on some of the best Sword-and-Sorcery stories ever written to adapt said stories, in a way that just about every other literary adaptation has been adapted.  Some seem to completely fail to understand the difference between this and the 1982 film's divergences from the source material, and the differences from other film.  One chap even brings up A Clockwork Orange, Jaws, and Planet of the Apes as examples of unfaithful adaptations.  As I said in the comments:

A Clockwork Orange retains the characters, themes and plot of the book. Alex de Large is a delinquent obsessed with classical music, leader of a gang called the Droogs, who commit atrocious acts of violence; after attacking a couple and raping the wife, he is captured, and subjected to the Ludovico technique, which instils an aversion to violence that utterly transforms him. Sure, certain elements are changed, but it still follows the story, adapts the characters, and retains the themes.

Same with Jaws. A shark is threatening Amity Island, Chief Martin Brody has to campaign against the mayor to close the beach and kill the shark, he hires oceanographer Matt Hooper and shark hunter Quint to kill it, the three don't get along but eventually bond, before Brody sees the shark die. Sure, certain elements are changed, but it still follows the story, adapts the characters, and retains the themes.

Planet of the Apes. An earthman crashes his spaceship on a strange planet; the humans are brutish and apelike, and encounter an ape hunting party, who have reached civilization, and have mastered language, technology and culture, though their origins are lost to time; the earthman is adopted by two sympathetic ape scientists called Cornelius and Zira, who are astonished by his intelligence; ape society is divided between warlike gorillas, political orang-utans and intellectual chimpanzees; the truth of the planet is discovered, as it's revealed to be earth in the far future after an ape rebellion. Sure, certain elements are changed, but it still follows the story, adapts the characters, and retains the themes.

Man, if only we got Conan films as unfaithful as those adaptations.

I've been through this before, but I'm still absolutely perplexed at the idea that anyone could consider what Stone & Milius did with Conan to be remotely comparable to those other films.  Then I thought: perhaps you, yes you, could help?

What I'm asking is for you to provide an example of an adaptation of a character which is as alien to the source material as Conan the Barbarian is.  In order to qualify, I'm going to suggest a few things:

  • Every character in the film is an original creation, aside from the main character. They could borrow a name from the mythology or one of the author's other works (as in Thulsa Doom), but they have to be largely completely independent in personality, biography and appearance.
  • The film's story is an original creation. There can be scenes and elements lifted from the source material, but the overarching narrative, subplots and the like have to be introduced by the screenwriters.
  • The central tenets of the origin story for the character, if present, have to be either ignored or directly contradicted.
  • The philosophy, themes and allusions are sometimes contradictory to the original source material.

Sound good?  It's actually bothering me that I can't think of that many adaptations. That said, I won't exclude suitably divergent adaptations that don't adhere to the above: I just want to know if Conan's in good company.

Right now, I can think of only one: Alex Proyas' I, Robot.  The de facto main character of the stories, Dr. Susan Calvin, is present in the film, albeit pushed into second banana for Will Smith, and aside from occupation, belief in the innate decency of robots, and antipathy to humans, she isn't very similar to the original character. For one thing, Asimov's Calvin wasn't a supermodel before she was a doctor.  The story is largely an invention, originally a science fiction film called Hardwired that had nothing to do with Asimov, before it was retroactively dolled up after the author's death. There are a few lifts from the stories, such as a robot hiding among its duplicates a la "Little Lost Robot," the reinterpretation of the Three Laws from "The Evitable Conflict," and the idea of a lying robot from "Liar," but hardly enough to constitute adaptations. I don't even need to tell you about the other things.

On the surface, Verhoeven's Starship Troopers would seem to apply, but then again, it does (poorly) adapt the plot and character: Rico, Raszcak, Rico being flogged for failing in testing, training is hazardous and deadly, the bugs annihilate Rico's home Buenos Aires, the invasion of Klendathu, Dizzy Flores dies, the arachnids are more intelligent than first believed.  I'd say it's closer to Conan the Barbarian than, say, The Lord of the Rings in terms of adaptation, though.  Certainly the themes are highly opposed.

So, over to you.  Can you think of anything?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Second Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains: Still to Come

I still have a few things to do regarding the Second Scottish Invasion, so keep an eye out for the following over the next week or so:
 - Prelude to Invasion: gaze in astonishment at a more thorough detailing of our two-week occupation of Mesa, Arizona prior to storming the gates of Texas!
 - Photographic evidence: marvel in awe at the victories of Al and the Weird Sisters at various battlefields and historical places of interest!
 - Expanded field reports: shiver in dread at newly detailed accounts of what really happened at Cross Plains, chock full of staunch alliances, shocking betrayals, and thrilling wars!
 - Glorious Return: gasp in surprise as I retell the strenuous and frightful journey home to the bleak moors of Scotland, braving blazing sun, driving rain, and subpar tea!
 - Spoils of war: squeal in delight at the sight of rare books, prized gifts, ferocious dinosaurs, fridge magnets, marvellous rocks and other tributes from the denizens of Cross Plains, truly a munificent bounty!

In the meantime, check out Conan Movie Blog, where I've been talking about the recent Conan TV spots and the new Red Band Trailer.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Second Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains: Day 4

The festivities are over, but the invasion is not: one final full day of the invading Scots remained.

10:00 Late to Breakfast

Having gone to bed at around 08:00, I didn't realistically see me attending breakfast at Jean's.  That said, I got up eventually, so that I could see everyone I could for the last time this year.  First, I said my goodbyes to Rusty and Shelly.  I also had a long discussion with Barbara Barrett, before accompanying Miguel Martins & Fabrice Tortey back to the 36 West.  There I found Dennis McHaney, Tom Foster, and Todd Woods, and I parted with all of them too.  Finally, I found Matthew, and exchanged well wishes and goodbyes while I retired to the room to catch some more rest.

14:00 Dinner with Paul Sammon

Last year, the marvellous Paul Sammon spontaneously offered to take me and the girls out for dinner, which we happily reciprocated.  It all started last year, when my aunt got to speaking with Paul on the bus trip around Cross Plains.  Evidently she made such an impression on Paul that he got better acquainted with the rest of us.  And the rest, as they say...

We went to Jeans, and discussed a great many things.  Paul had some fantastic stories from the world of cinema to share, and imparted some valuable and greatly appreciated advice about getting involved in the world of business.  The girls provided their own stories, too, so it wasn't just Paul giving an informal panel (which wouldn't have been a bad thing by any means!) and we I talked about the likes of Sword-and-Sorcery adaptations, the Encyclopaedia Hyboriana, Max von Sydow sticking up for Dune, and whatnot.

In a truly awesome twist, not only did Paul Sammon give us an autographed copy of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner (one of the best behind-the-scenes books I've read), but after I lamented not bringing my copy of Conan the Phenomenon for him to sign, Paul went to his car, picked out his last copy of the book, and gave it to me - and autographed.  I was bowled over by his generosity, and giddy with glee.  Heh, and I say I don't get star-struck...

Circa 17:00 Preparing to Depart

The Scottish Invasion would end with the invading army camping around the area of the 36 West tavern, a mere mangonel's throw from the Howard House. So, we got our suitcases packed, tried to negotiate all the books I bought (and was given!) and get some rest before the Great Migration back to the homeland.  It was this time I wrote up the blog, and by the time you hear from me next, I'll be back where my heart is: glaikit, dreich, droukit Scotland.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Second Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains: Day 3.25, the Night at the Pavillion

This is an interim post where I discuss the night at the Pavillion.  A lot of stuff happened there, and due to the intimacy and liquor involved, a lot of it was deeply private and personal: however, there are some things said that night that I want to share, and hopefully the other participants won't mind me sharing.

Just after I finished the last post, I tried to sleep.  I couldn't.  Wired to the ceiling, so much energy left, I felt like I was wasting time.  So I got back up and returned to the Pavillion, hoping that there were still some night owls present.  Luckily, there were: Dennis McHaney, Russell Andrew, Todd Woods, Tom Foster, Ben Friberg, Chris Gruber, Aurelia Bryan, Frank Coffman, Jim Barron, and Ed Chaczyk were still up and enjoying each other's company.  I arrived just as Ed and Jim were leaving for the night, but I got a chance to say my goodbyes.

For much of the evening, everyone talked.  Dennis talked to me about film and the work involved with fanzines, Ben & Todd talked history with me, I talked to Frank about poetry, country songs and rugby anthems, I chatted with Chris and Tom about my Howard and Conan, and Aurelia about... just about everything, really.

Talking with Dennis was incredibly rewarding.  I was still thinking of Dennis as this "colossus, this great legendary thing" who was so instrumental in paving the modern golden age of Howard Studies, not to mention being somewhat intimidating when encountered in print or online.  Yet he was considerate, tolerant, and just damned great company.  He recommended I find a horror film with Sean Bean called Far North, and coming from a man who knows so much about cinema, I'll be sure to do so.

Todd is a great chap, too.  He and I talked at the barbecue about the history of Scotland, the current political status of the UK and the possibility of Scottish Independence, and the historical verisimilitude of Braveheart (cough), and during The Wee Hours we picked up on our conversation.  Todd reminds me a lot of one of those great, gregarious giants like Little John or any Brian Blessed role.  Great fun.

Tom was fantastic: also very learned and knowledgeable, and he seemed particularly interested in how I first got into Howard.  I retold the story, and we discussed the merits of "The Tower of the Elephant." Ben and I discussed history and historical films, Zemeckis' Beowulf (hint: we slammed it) and, again, Braveheart. Chris was very thoughtful, as he seemed deeply interested in furthering intelligent discussion, as opposed to fun drunken ramblings.  Which is fine, of course, but I appreciated his efforts too, and enjoyed listening to everyone recounting their first experiences with Howard, comparing the boxing stories to the rest of his ouevre, and his poetry.  Someone I really need to talk to more.

The only person I didn't chat to was Russell Andrew: I was bothered that I didn't make or find the time to talk with him, but that's what next years are for.  Soon Frank regaled us with rugby songs and Howard's favourite Irish tune, we were all giggling and having difficulty with our motor neurons (some through being "tired and emotional," some being non-euphemistically tired and emotional) and we started to drift apart into small groups to different parts of the place. At which point, I found myself with Aurelia.

Let me talk about Aurelia: she is absolutely wonderful. I talked with her all through the night about Howard, poetry, life, everything in general. I even got a few opportunities to talk to her alone: we sat on the porch of the Howard House and discussed America, the sights of the land, our lives and beliefs. We had a pretty massive argument (involving gender roles, politics and whatnot) at around 05:30, and all through it I felt absolutely dreadful. Yet because I truly believe Aurelia understood where I was coming from, we managed to reconcile - almost entirely consisting of me apologizing and grovelling! - and continued talking about Howard, poetry, life, everything in general, letting her get a rest before she drove off to the airport. At around 07:30, I finally, and most reluctantly, left to get ready for breakfast, having not slept a wink that whole night, my throat hoarse from talking.

My time with Aurelia is a time which I consider one of the most important - of not only Howard Days, but of my life.  I learned so much talking, arguing and laughing with her.  I think - hope - I came out of this a better, wiser, more mature person than I was yesterday. For this, I thank Aurelia from the bottom of my heart for affecting me so much. She is one of the most charming, insightful, sharp, determined, commanding, and all-round brilliant people I've ever met, and I dearly hope to keep in touch with her, and see her return for the next Howard Days.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Second Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains: Day 3

Since I had such a fantastic time, this is going to be a very short post, but fear not: it WILL be substantially expanded later with a lot more detail.

08:00 Breakfast

Bacon & Egg tacos.  Glorious. 

09:00 The Pavillion

Chatted with lots of folk.  Bought Dreams in the Fire.  Then the library.

10:00 Paul and Conan at the Movies

Superb stuff.  See Ben Friberg's videos if/when he posts them.

Circa 11:30

Lunch at the Bank, had a grilled chicken sandwich.  Glorious.  We saw a few Howard Days folk, then back to the library.  I've made it a custom to buy a Howard manuscript facsimile every year, and this was no exception: last year was "The Sword Woman," this year I went with "The Black Stranger."  Fredrik Malmberg passed by, and actually came up and said it was alright for me to talk about everything I saw at yesterday's panel - this was something I discussed on Conan Movie Blog.  So, the president, CEO and Co-Founder of Paradox Entertainment - or at least someone with his ear - has been reading Conan Movie Blog.  And Mr Malmberg personally took the time to tell me it was alright.  Awesome.

The heat was really getting to me, and since I didn't have a lot of sleep, I reluctantly missed the second two panels, even though I dearly wanted to see them.  I had a lie down (siesta, to use the local parlance), and though there were two irritating flies, I certainly needed it for what was to come.

Circa 15:30 What's happening with REH?

Rusty Burke, Rob Roehm, Fredrik Malmberg, Joakim Zetterberg and Leslie Buhler talked about the next stuff from Paradox, CPI and the REH Foundation.  Some of the exciting announcements:

 - The next REH Foundation collection will be the Spicies, and Rob noted that some of Howard's typescripts were quite a bit raunchier than the final tales
 - The Del Reys are not at an end, but on a hiatus, waiting to see how much demand for more REH there will be after the film
 - Future volumes mentioned include "the Northern stuff," three boxing collections, errata for stuff that doesn't fit elsewhere, and a second edition Collected Poems of REH (YES!)
 - The Kull film is moving forward, and Sean Hood's working on the script
 - Christophe Gans has been developing a script for Dark Agnes.

That last announcement had me absolutely squealing with delight.  While hardly an ideal choice, from a realistic standpoint, Gans may well be one of the best choices to get an Aggie film actually made.  I overheard that the script was described as "Kill Bill in the Middle Ages."  Stupendous - as long as they don't pull a Red Sonja with a rape origin or some such.  Plus he's French, so him making a film about a French character has a nice synchronicity with the English MJB making a film about the English Solomon Kane.

Circa 16:30 Signing

Got Mark & Amy to sign Dreams in the Fire, and ran to the hotel to get changed.

Circa 17:00 Caddo Peak Ranch

Got to Caddo Peak Ranch.  I got acquainted with another newbie (present at the poetry throwdown last night) called Aurelia.  She captured the hearts and minds of just about every male present with her earnestness, erudition, intelligence and simple charm.  Plus she was gorgeous, that helped.  With a capital G.  I also talked with many other folks.

Ascending the Peak

I climbed Caddo Peak.  It was arduous: my calves were shorting out every dozen or so steps, so I had to rest to let them reenergize.  The heat didn't help at all.  But I succeeded.  I wasn't alone, of course: Keith, Aurelia, Matthew, Don, Kevin, Miguel and more conquered the Callahan County Mountain.  I momentarily lost my hat, but a mighty soul saved it from the ages and we reunited.  I found a rock.

The Barbeque

I talked with Don, Kevin, Aurelia, Todd, Frank and Gary about all manner of things: Scotland, independence et al.  I had barbecue.  You know what it was, and it had a capital G too.

The Pavillion

I talked with many people, well into the wee hours.  Said goodbyes.  Have fallen hopelessly in love with Aurelia.  Now I really have to get some sleep.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Second Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains: Day 2

Now we get into the death-grip, the real Howard Days festivities begin!

08:45 Coffee & Donuts at the Pavillion

In one of my many foreigner moments, I set the alarm clock for 7:00 PM, as opposed to AM.  Confound it all.  In any case, I was awakened by the Weird Sisters, caught a quick shower, and got up and ready in about 20 minutes.  Then onto the Pavillion.

The heat was not intense, and I was coping alright.  The shower helped, since my long locks were still soaked in water, which helped cool my head.  Thanks, ma!  I had a banana and drink of milk for breakfast, leaving room for one of those gargantuan American donuts.  When in Rome, and all that.  During this, I got reacquainted with many of the folk from yesterday, seeing all the new arrivals.  I recall many faces from last year, but because I'm atrocious with names, I often fall into the dreaded "Oh, hello!  It's yourself!  How are you?" trap, desperately trying not to give the game away even though it would save embarassment just to admit my silliness.  At least I remembered Keith, a remembrance I'm proud of.

We got registered, and watched the walking tour depart.  It was with great delight I noticed I had a special REHupan badge with a blue border: whee!  Little things like that keep me amused.

09:00 The Howard House... Again

We went back into the Howard House for another jaunt, but this time I had cash with me. Bwahahaha. I made a point of restricting myself to only buy items I could carry home comfortably in a briefcase that were of a uniform size, so sadly, no Dreams in the Fire (this time: I'll get there, dammit!) or the many similarly sized collections.  However, I did buy two Spectrum REH specials (one including an interview with Mark), The Drawings of Robert E. Howard (something I really wanted to get), and the new centennial retrospective of Cross Plains.  All were around the same size, so they'd fit well into a case. I neglected to mention I bought the latest Two Gun Raconteur from Damon last night. Plenty of reading material for the plane home!

A sight that near rent my heart in twain was next: a box of The Cimmerian issues.  I don't make a song-and-dance about it, but back when Leo announced that he was planning on destroying the remaining copies, I immediately resolved that I would do my damnedest to make sure as many as possible weren't lost.  Thus, I bought the entire Cimmerian library.  Cost me an arm and a leg, the single biggest investment I've ever made for such a subject, and I think I'm still feeling the cost today.  So it was with a hint of vague annoyance tempered with delighted recognition that I saw these Cimmerian issues were on sale for a fraction of the original price.  I could've done with a discount like that back then.  Still, I consoled myself by thinking "hey, that just means there are more copies out there that can be read and savoured."

09:45 The Library

Next we drove along to attend the panels, and see how the Dan Goudey Memorial was coming along.  I should note that something seemed to go wrong in our car, so that instead of the air conditioner blowing cool air, it blew hot air.  So you can imagine I was somewhat uncomfortable, much as I'd imagine I'd be uncomfortable if you dropped me in a vat of boiling oil without my express consent. This would be a problem throughout the day.

Luckily, the library isn't a far drive, so I survived.  Barely.  We all arrived and said hello to Linda and the rest, caught up on everything.  I then saw how the memorial was coming along: apparently there had been setbacks, but it's at least a third finished.  It looks lovely so far, and I applaud the decision to split it into parts, in case the library has to move, or anything.

The first panel of the day was Rusty & Indy relating the history of Howard Days itself.  Very informative and fun little reminisces peppered throughout, accompanied by a slideshow with the younger Messrs Burke & Cavalier, as well as documents and stories of the time.  Ben Friberg was present to record, and I hope he puts it up on youtube so I can link it here in future.

EDIT: Here we go! As Ben uploads the parts onto Youtube, I'll update the post to show them here.

12:00 Hot dogs at the Pavillion

We drove back, and saw Paul Sammon walking with Gary Romeo back to the Pavillion.  Ever the generous Scots (we have a reputation to uphold) we offered to give them a lift, and so Paul & Gary were squished into a car containing four displaced Scots.  As Gran said, "Aberdonian transport." We had hot dogs at the Pavillion, and I mostly chatted with Miguel about all manner of subjects, though again, I talked with a bunch of others.

13:00 Dennis & Damon

Dennis McHaney and Damon Sasser, being the guests of honour, had their own panel, where they discussed Howard 'zines.  I can't do it justice: too much information to relay.  Again, I hope Ben pulls through.

14:15 Amy & Barbara

I was really anxious to see this panel due to my vested interest in Howard's women (both characters and fans), and I offered to help out in any way.  They didn't need it: they discussed the Cimbri woman of "Echoes from an Iron Harp," Dark Agnes, Olivia, Valeria, Red Sonya and a variety of others.  I chimed in with Helen Tavrel in the Q&A - I think she's very underrated as a very complex, vulnerable, sword woman - and there was lots of comment from the audience.  Occassionally Barbara nodded in my direction when they forgot a story's name ("I'm helping!"), and you might hear that Scottish brogue in a video near you.

We then drove to the High School, and the air conditioning situation showed no signs of abating.  Worse, it was at the hottest part of the day.  It got to the point where I actually felt cooler outside in the 98 degree sun than in the car.  I don't think that's how air conditioning works.

15:30 High School and Conan

Now, this is going to be short, as I'm going to be working on a full report of what I saw of the new Conan film for Conan Movie Blog.  However, as we walked in, we encountered Matthew, an acquaintance from the previous Howard Days which the Weird Sisters were very fond of, and I was very happy to see him return too.  It really started to feel less like being in a foreign country, and more like visiting the family for the weekend.

I also got to play around with some of the film props: the sword of Corin, Conan's sword, Marique's Stygian Claws, a broken Mask of Acheron (how in blazes do you break a foam mask? UST found a way), Conan's necklace, and - get this - a spyglass.  That's right, a Hyborian spyglass. I'm not quite sure what to make of it: it seems somewhat feasible, but I'm not up to speed on optics technology.  Anyway.  Since the Weird Sisters had departed to get ready for the banquet, I got a lift from Barbara, where I talked with Miguel.  He isn't convinced about the film, and he continues to disagree with me on Solomon Kane.  Such is the nature of Howardom, and I love it.

18:00 To the Community Centre

After a good while lying down and resting, I got ready for the banquet. As per last year, I donned my linen suit (seen in the penultimate post on The Cimmerian blog), with the addition of my sweet new cowboy hat.  Another drive, and by this time I was ready to leap out of the moving car - though this particular make, a Buick of some form, had a mechanism which prevented the doors from opening when the car's moving. Blast.

We sat down to dinner after looking at the silent auction items, seated at a table along with to Matthew, Ben Friberg, Mark Finn & his wife Cathy, Ed Chaczyk, Paul Herman, Fredrik Malmberg and Joakim Zetterburg.  There were a number of presentations: a lovely wee girl recited her essay for the Robert E. Howard Foundation Scholarship, Dennis & Damon spoke for a bit on their 'zines and 'Zine history in general, Arlene Stephenson laid down the law in terms of table manners and food gathering procedure.

We had Texas food: tacos with a variety of sauces.  Knowing the power of Mexican cuisine, I choose a fairly dull stir-fried chicken with rice and a great dollop of avocado sauce.  I have the Scots of Arizona to thank for turning me onto that delicious new taste.  Refried beans is awfully Texan too. After eating, the final five minutes of the silent auction were announced, and to my (in retrospect, redundant) disappointment, nearly everything I had my eye on was already hiking up in price.  Usually it was Paul Sammon.  On the other hand, I simply didn't have the space in my suitcase, so ultimately it's for the best.  I just don't know when I'm going to see those Wandering Stars again...

Then the Awards.  I was up for an award, but seeing as there were eighteen other entries, I wasn't expecting anything.  Same as last year: nice to be nominated, but I'm hardly there yet.  So the winners are announced and then the Cimmerians for Outstanding Achievement in Blog Posts comes along.  Third place goes to Barbara Barrett, and given that she's the most prolific of us - spread out across four blogs - damn right.  Second place was Al Harron for The Cimmerian and The Blog That Time Forgot.  Alright, that's pretty neat, Al was nominated last year for the Venarium but didn't get it, so...

Wait, I'm Al Harron!  I won an award!

(Miguel has an awesome picture of my expression upon winning, which was entirely gratuitous and over the top, but I genuinely didn't think I'd win anything this year.  This picture will go here)

At the time, I was floating above the clouds: to think, I got one of those little plaques that shows the heavy hitters of Howardom are thinking "hey, great job, dude, have a little plaque that shows the heavy hitters of Howardom are thinking "hey, great job, dude..."" And I honestly didn't think I'd have a chance against the likes of Keith or Damon's spectacular work.  But here I am, with the little plaque.  It's something, I tell you.  I'm having little ideas about putting a "Winner of an REH Foundation Award" picture in the top right corner like how TC had the World Fantasy Award, but that might be silly.

Anyway, I was pretty much flabberghasted by this.  The road back to the Pavillion was light and airy on account of me perambulating several inches above the ground, and we went to the poetry reading.

I'll expand this post when I have time, but I really must get some sleep.  Clutching my award.

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Second Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains: Day 1

Here it is folk's, the first report of the first day at Cross Plains.  I'm just going to jot everything down as I remember it, and hopefully that reminds me of further things for posterity.  I would put pictures up, but I can't get the damned thing to connect to the computer (something like "power input incompatible" or such) and in any case, I might forget things.  So, onward!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

S.H.I.E.L.D.W.A.L.L. Operation Illuminate






I'm mobilizing for Operation Albanach Invasion as we speak, so I'm not going to be able to engage in operations for a while.  But that's no reason I should keep all the fun from you folks, so I'm going to post the review in its entirety now, and invite you to comment in the comments section: I'll be updating this alert with my analysis in due course.  I'll just say that Subject Bittertree has some very good company in Zack Davisson - if the latter's advance review for Savage Sword of Robert E. Howard is any indication.

Even though he is one of my favorites, I will be the first to admit that Robert E. Howard was not a great writer. He was mediocre at best, with limited style and skills, stilted dialog, often hack-kneed plots, and shallow, one-dimensional characters. But somehow, through some mystical confluence of inspiration and muse, when Robert E. Howard wrote Conan he was transfigured; he became a great writer, one of the greatest. But only when he was writing Conan.

Okay, so I'm being uncharitable. Howard also did a good job with King Kull, Solomon Kane and a few others. His work was character-driven; if he had a good character, he produced good writing. If he had a great character, he produced great writing. And if he had a mediocre or completely lame character… well, you can guess what level of writing he produced.

Dark Horse took on a daring challenge with Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword: to take these lesser-known, lesser-written characters and make good comics. Sailor Steve Costigan. The desert gunslinger El Borak. Dark Agnes de Chastillon, who would be combined with another Howard creation Red Sonya of Rogatino to become the comic character Red Sonja. The Viking Niord. Not exactly household names. There are six stories in total, two of them continuing serials, one a reprint from 1970s fantasy anthologies, and one an illustrated version with Howard’s text. That makes for a good mix, and allows new readers to pick up any issue while still encouraging ongoing collection.

I am impressed with the results. One of the benefits of using the lower-grade Howard pantheon is that the writers are more free to write their own stories. When I read Conan comics, I am constantly comparing them to Howard’s Conan and am nitpicky about the departures. But when I read this El Borak story, I just sit back and enjoy.

The showpiece of this anthology is El Borak, the Texas-Cowboy-in-the-Middle-East who makes his first comic appearance here. Rendered by writer Mark Finn and artist Greg Scott, El Borak is remarkably well done, with cinematic pacing and imagery. This story is an original piece by Finn, set as a sequel to Howard’s El Borak adventure Hawk of the Hills. Finn and Scott have obviously studied their desert adventure flicks from the period, because they captured the look and feel just right. The sword duel between El Borak and Hakim Khan was fantastic -- beautifully written, beautifully drawn.

The Dark Agnes is another original story, which is not surprising as Howard only wrote three Dark Agnes stories. This Dark Agnes is still a “She-Devil with a Sword” but don’t expect her to run around in a chainmail bikini. Written by Marc Andreyko with pencils by Robert Atkins, Dark Agnes is one of the two continuing serials. Andreyko gave Dark Agnes a more feminist theme than Howard probably intended, but then he was a 1930s Texan. Atkins’ art is good enough, but not particularly memorable.

I have never liked Sailor Steve Costigan, and the story here didn’t convince me otherwise. He is one of Howard’s “fighting characters,” a tough guy who gets into problems then settles them with his fists -- basically Popeye will all the mirth sucked out. Writer Joe Casey and artist Pop Mhan do their best to make something out of the meager source material. Mhan in particular draws some interesting faces, while Casey tries to weave some twists and turns into the tale. But ultimately it is a typical Sailor Steve Costigan adventure, and he just punches people until he wins. The following Sea Cruise, which combines Howard’s original text with illustrations by Tim Seeley, is a far better story. The scene of a corpse getting its eyes eaten out by crabs is one of the best in the book.

The Valley of the Worm is the sole reprint, coming from 1972's Supernatural Thrillers #3. Story-wise, this may be the worst in the book. It is a typical Howard device of a modern man experiencing his wild past life where he was a powerful barbarian warrior. The story is entirely saved by Gil Kane’s perfect art, looking even more beautiful with modern coloring.

And finally comes Conan. There is something primal about Conan. He dominates the book as soon as he steps on the page. You get the feeling that Conan would easily take down everyone else in this book without dinging his sword raising a sweat. Paul Tobin and Wellington Alves do the Conan story The Jewels of Hastern, and do it well. I haven’t heard of either Tobin or Wellington, but they get right into the heart of Conan with a story that's all blood, women, jewels and strange gods -- the way a Conan story should be. Artist Wellington did a great job on the armor and castle setting of the story, and Tobin leaves the story on the edge of a climax, leaving the reader wanting to flip the next page but being forced to wait until the next volume of this anthology comes out.

I don't think there's a single sentence in this document that I can leave without comment.  However, time is of the essence: I invite all S.H.I.E.L.D.W.A.L.L. agents and allies to address this review, utilizing the Utterance Device located below. As ever, keep the mantra of savage courtesy in mind.

Shields Up,

--Agent Taranaich

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Mo reasons to love Momo

Arnold's Conan did a few impressive things.  He lifted a giant bowl of green soul.  He pushed a giant wheel.  He... *sigh* knocked out a camel with a punch.

He didn't, however, rip a man's tongue out through his own throat.

I will not have your body burned. I will not give you that honour. The beetles will feed on your eyes. The worms will crawl through your lungs. The rain will fall on your rotting skin... until nothing is left of you but bones.

You'll notice Drogo doesn't even seem to register the flesh wound on his chest from the khopesh (and we seriously need a moratorium on those, they're getting like the katana for the 21st Century), treating it with no more concern than a nettle sting.  Also, that he drops his two tiny knives during the fight: he is Khal Drogo, he doesn't need weapons to kill a man. And to top it all off, he goes all Ken-"Fist of the North Star"-shiro with a final quip.

As with the last showcase of Momo's talent, I really hope Nispel and the gang gave Conan a scene remotely as badass as this one.  Literary Conan certainly had his share of highlights, and it would be nice to have one that doesn't involve animal abuse or lifting heavy things, and hopefully not just rip off one of those moments from the stories.  If there's one thing we can probably depend on, though, it's ingenuity in gory fight scenes.

* I will note that the scene isn't perfect, for the same reason the last one wasn't: Dothraki extras in Game of Thrones suck.  They really suck.  Suuuuuuuck.  In the last video, they didn't seem nearly as fired up as Momoa, reducing the impact of the scene entirely.  I've already talked about how I hate their visual design.  In this case, it's Drogo's "opponent" - more like Drogo's victim.  That guy who challenged Drogo looks like no threat whatsoever to Drogo: surely if you want to show how badass Drogo is, you give him an opponent that looks like he could pose a challenge?  Then, when Drogo defeats him he looks even more dominant? I wasn't remotely worried about Drogo here, and arguably we probably got that point - but that doesn't make it a fight, that makes it butchery.

When Conan fought someone, they were usually treated as dangerous threats.  Howard wrote about their victories, size, deadliness, prowess.  Sergius of Khrosha, Zaporavo, Baal-Pteor, Shah Amurath, the Adventurer, Olgerd.  Conan defeated them all, and while the difficulty of those victories varied, Conan either came out more imperssive because he made them look like nobodies, or because he just barely managed to survive against a truly formidable opponent.  This guy fighting Drogo's a nobody, Drogo defeated him like a nobody, and all I thought during the fight was "how's Drogo going to defeat this nobody?" I'm not going to recall this fight scene as "do you remember when Khal Drogo defeated that challenger to his rule," but "do you remember when Khal Drogo owned that cocky little punk?" Considering we'll (probably) never see Khal truly fight in the series, it's a shame this one fight scene wasn't what I was hoping for.  Ah well. 

Monday, 6 June 2011

Robert E. Howard and the Bechdel Test

/bech·del test/ n.
1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

As far as I can understand it, the Bechdel Test is a deceptively simple test which, while not damning or indicting in itself, does highlight a somewhat disquieting trend in the cinematic treatment of female characters.

This video from The Feminist Frequency (who I have my disagreements with, but largely respect her opinions on some matters) gives us the gist of it, as well as highlights how worryingly common it is, even in recent times.


Sunday, 5 June 2011

Maps for a Land I've Never Seen...

The official map over at encapsulates exactly what my problem with the film is.  And, to echo what I said over at CMB:

Let’s imagine Warner Brothers do something like this for The Hobbit: a stylized map showing all the regions in the film. Someone who knows nothing of Middle earth might see a cosy little village with doors in the hills; a stately town hidden in the mountains; high peaks shrouded in mist; a dark forest housing a hidden city and a black fortress; a grim mountain circled by a dragon; a city standing on a lake. A Tolkien fan, however, wouldn’t even need map markers to know what they were looking at – Hobbiton in the Shire; Rivendell; the Misty Mountains; Mirkwood, the Wood-elves’ realm and Dol Goldur; the Lonely Mountain and Smaug; Laketown.

A Conan fan doesn’t have that pleasure looking at this map. If I didn’t already know about the locations, I probably couldn’t even hazard a guess as to what the dark fortress, Greek-looking city, Middle-Eastern-looking city and coastal fort could be. I’ve even seen comments on the internet thinking the dark fortress, Middle-Eastern city and desert is Stygia, the Greek-Influenced Monastery and forest is Aquilonia, and the pirate ship is somewhere out on the Western Ocean in Tortage. Even considering that the broad location of the film is set on the “savage coast” of Turan, it’s parts of Turan we haven’t seen in any of the stories.

So the idea that the filmmakers have spent all this time and money making a completely new world when they already have 80 years’ worth of legend to draw from is… well, it is what it is, is all.

Then I imagined what a map of actual Conan stories would be like.  Conan the Barbarian: Black Colossus would have Kuthchemes, Khoraja, Aphaka, Altaku, Shamla Pass, maybe Eruk and Akbatana.  Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast would have Messantia, the Black Coast, the Zarkheba River, the City of the Winged One, possibly adding Abombi, the Stygian Coast and Khemi.  Conan the Barbarian: The People of the Black Circle would have Ayodhya, Peshkauri, Ghor, Zhaibar Pass, the Gurashah Valley, Mount Yimsha.  King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon would feature Belverus, Tarantia, the Valkia, Poitain, Valbroso's castle, Messantia, Khemi, the Valley of Lions.

Wouldn't that be cool?

Good Scot/Bad Scot: Being in America

I figure I might as well give my thoughts on what I hate and love about America through the medium of flip-flopping Scotsman.  Now, some of these are only problems if you're a foreigner in a strange country: I can't imagine many Americans feeling the same, though hopefully they sympathize.  In addition, a lot of the Bad Scot entries aren't problems per se, more like culture clashes that the belligerent Scot in me treats as monstrous inconviniences (as is the way of the belligerent Scot).  Onward!

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Return of Jim Cornelius

Another Cimmerian alumnus has set up a new base of operations: adventurer, traveller and all-around explorer Jim Cornelius has established Frontier Partisans. His inaugural post is on Charles de Langlade's triumph over Major Robert Rogers' Rangers. Really rivetting. Rrr.

Jime alerts me that the site will focus around historical storytelling of North America, Africa, Central Asia and beyond, with book and film reviews on the subject, as well as musings on the adventurer's way of life. It's going on my bookmarks.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Isaiah Mustafa MUST SUCCEED.

Alright, we all know I really, really want Isaiah Mustafa to be Luke Cage.  Fortuitously, Isaiah Mustafa really, really wants to be Luke Cage too: so much, in fact, that he shot this little teaser video giving us an idea of what a Luke Cage movie might be like.

Admittedly, my preferred choice of Luke Cage film would be one set in the '70s with the rest of the Heroes for Hire, but damn, I'll take this.

Hollywood, you know the drill: give Isaiah Mustafa whatever the hell he needs to MAKE THIS HAPPEN. Just don't Jonah Hex it.