Thursday 23 February 2012

Tilting the Glass to Steve Tompkins

Next month, it'll be three years.*  I don't have much to say, but I don't want to leave the day unmarked.  I have a more traditional tribute planned, which will hopefully be up in a few days.

I've been re-reading "New Barbarians," a fantastic essay of his in the Cimmerian print journal: it is central to an upcoming post in the Aquiromians series, while I'm trying to decide just which of his many fantastic essays on Howard's work is "the best" for my REH analyses post.  Damned hard to tell.  Just going through his posts on The Cimmerian site alone and his 'zine Visions, Gryphons, Nothing & the Night should give you an idea.

Skål, sláinte, prost, and many, many cheers for Steve Tompkins.

*As Damon said, there's never a bad time to pay respects, though I'm a bit annoyed I got such an important date mixed up.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Hyborian Musings: Aquiromian Holiday, Part Four

Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Quick forward: the subject of the Aquiromians and question of whether the Hyborian Kingdoms were predominantly ancient or medieval in inspiration has been raging over at the Robert E. Howard Forums. I highly recommend that anyone reading these articles should peruse those topics. The topics on Aquilonia and Acheron are also important reading. My goal in this series is to present my argument that Howard's primary inspiration for the Hyborian Kingdoms (not the Hyborian Age in general, otherwise what would that make Stygia and Shem?) was the Middle Ages, with any influence from ancient or classical sources being either universally applicable, or intrinsic to the Middle Ages themselves.

I was, as always, much interested in your remarks concerning the classical world, of which I know so little. What a city Alexandria must have been! I had no idea of the origin of the word parchment. As I’ve said before, your letters are an actual education for me. Some day I must try to study the ancient Grecian world. Its always seemed so vague and unreal to me, in contrast to the roaring, brawling, drunken, bawdy chaos of the Middle Ages in which my instincts have always been fixed. When I go beyond the Middle Ages, my instincts veer to Assyria and Babylon, where again I seem to visualize a bloody, drunken, brawling, lecherous medley. My vague instincts towards classical Greece go no further than a dim impression of calm, serene white marble statues in a slumbering grove. Though I know the people of the classic times must have wenched and brawled and guzzled like any other people, but I can not concieve of them. The first mythology I ever read was that of Greece, but even then it seemed apart and impersonal, without the instinctive appeal I later found in Germanic mythology.
 - Robert E. Howard, letter to H.P. Lovecraft, 13th July, 1932

In most adaptations and illustrations, the army of Aquilonia resembles a host straight out of the classical period: if not legionary cohorts, then certainly Greek phalanges. But how does this compare to Howard's original descriptions?

Friday 10 February 2012

Good Scot/Bad Scot: Conan the Barbarian #1 Review

We have two very different ongoing Conan comics right now. The first is from the established team of Timothy Truman and Tomas Giorello, an adaptation of the very first Conan story written and published; the second from newcomers Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. I've read both of them, and I think studying the two might give an interesting appraisal not only on the state of Conan adaptations, but Conan fandom today.

Just So You Know What To Expect

I've given up any hope of providing an objective review of Conan adaptations, but then, you can go to just about any other site for a more balanced opinion. Plenty of interesting reviews from hardcore Conan fans, complete newbies, even recent converts are out there.  They seem to be more suited to answering the question "is it a good comic" than I, so I'm not even going to attempt to do the same. I have no idea if Conan the Barbarian #1 and King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1 are good comics purely on their own merits: to me, direct adaptations such as these are inseparable from the source material.  So the only opinion I can possibly offer is how they relate to the source material, how they differ, and how these changes alter the narrative and character of the work.

However, there's something interesting going on here in the reception the two comics have among the Conan fandom.  Some dedicated Howard fans really hate Conan the Barbarian #1, yet absolutely adore King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1; others consider the former a poor adaptation, but a fair story in its own right, while viewing the latter as a closer adaptation.  On the other side of the fence, critical opinion of Conan the Barbarian #1 by non-fans seems to be much warmer than that of King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1. This seems to imply two things: firstly, that KC:TPotS #1 is a more faithful adaptation than CtB #1, and secondly, that the level of fidelity has a correlation between its reception by fans and non-fans.

Could it be true that, given the choice between a "faithful" adaptation and an "unfaithful" one, non-fans are more likely to enjoy the unfaithful one? Having read both issues, I have to question this conclusion, for a number of reasons. But first, my thoughts on the new series' first issue