Swords of the South

Just checked out my Blogger page- Some Fantastic Place– and found that, as has been the case for nearly 12 months, I can’t post anything at all. When I was visiting Glasgow, last week, I found East Renfrewshire’s public library ICT provision made Moray’s look antiquated. If I can resolve the technical problems , I will post again but even logging into WordPress in Elgin has taken 10 minutes…

Today’s post is a holiday special – taking a break from Batman in the 60s to revisit Marvel’s b/w magazines of the 70s.

Forty years ago, my parents took a caravan holiday for the first time. We stayed on a farm in Borgue Bay- with a chemical toilet in a tent. All I really remember now is seeing bats for the first time, riding a pony and visiting Kirkcudbright, where the scant comic pickings was a Wonder Woman Super-Spectacular.

I hope to return to the area next month but last week I spent a couple of days in my favourite childhood haunts: Sandhead in the Rhins of Galloway.

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I took along a copy of Savage Tales 5 from exactly 40 years ago (since I first read Robert E. Howard’s prose in that part of the world.)

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Issue four, however, isn’t part of my collection. It features material I’ve already read elsewhere: Night of the Dark God , a Nordic revenge tragedy by Kane and Adams, appeared in the landmark 1977 Conan treasury. The mag’s other feature is Barry Smith’s decadent Dweller in the Dark, in which Conan becomes a “kept man” and is subsequently thrown into a dungeon with an octopoid monster.

Issue Five opens with The Secret of Skull River. This story was seemingly co-plotted with John Jakes, who created the identikit sword and sorcery hero, Brak.  It was illustrated, in an appealing change of pace, by Jim Starlin. Steranko’s influence is eveident here, with filmic long shots and zooms ( especially into a sterotypically Starlinesque death’s head in a blind man’s eye).

Conan is hired to stop a nobleman and an alchemist from poisoning a village’s water supply. Their lead-into-gold experiments are producing deformities and gigantism. There’s a cinematic seduction sequence (cut in a later reprint -see below) and subsequently a rather coarse joke about “riding” but otherwise this is an unremarkable Roy Thomas outing. It is unusual, however, to see Starlin draw a hero who doesn’t have introspective or surrealistic vignettes.

While this story was reprinted two years later in Conan the Barbarian 64 ( a fill-in after the Tarzan/Amra sequence in the colour comic), the other adventures in the mag are reprints from colour Marvels.

Spell of the Dragon:Dan Adkins teams with Val Mayerik and John Jakes to present an adventure of Brak the Barbarian from Chamber of Chills 2 (Jan 73). Brak is dispatched by a witch to kill a dragon. The art is quite stylised but Mayerik’s hero -like his Thongor- is brutish and ugly. Jakes’ creation and his world are bland and derivative and almost all of DC’s sword-and-sorcery creations are more interesting than Brak.

Legend of the Lizard Men: another reprint, this time from 1971’s Astonishing Tales 9.  This is another of Stan and John Buscema’s slighly spicy tales of Marvel’s prehistoric Tarzan. The sultry villainess Iranda reminds me Buscema’s Karnilla. This lush and moody saga is a characterful supernatural story, like the Conway/Barry Smith epsiodes of Ka-Zar.

The shimmer of sexuality in the mag distinguishes it, in one sense at least, from Marvel’s colour line. There’s also a scholarly tone to Thomas’s text feature on Conan books in the 50s. This is sustained by a LOC from Fritz Leiber ( whose Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were delineated at DC) and a reference to Harlan Ellison in the letters pages.

My other Sword and Sorcery reading was Michael Moorcock’s Sailor on the Seas of Fate. I first bought it in East Kilbride in 1979, on the day I saw Christopher Reeve’s Superman.

The Sailor on the Seas of Fate 1 (front)

Elric the albino has three sea-faring adventures: in the first, four aspects of the Eternal Champion meld togther to combat Lovecraftian beings who resemble living, futuristic buildings (Heavy!). In the second, Elric rescues a maiden from his deathless, obsessive ancestor who think she’s the reincarnation of his lover. In the third, the moody princeling embarks on a voyage to the jungle-lost city of his forebears. I read this story in the form of The Jade Man’s Eyes in Flashing Swords 2 , along with a Brak adventure.

Of course, I came to Moorcock through Marvel’s team-up of Elric and Conan. These melancholy, magical adventures have a haphazard, dream-like- proggy– quality. In many ways they’re somewhat more  juvenile than REH in terms of plotting and world-building. The fatalistic, conflicted anti- hero is a clear influence however on Starlin’s Warlock (which is neatly cyclical, I think).

Finally, I discovered on Twitter yesterday that Neil Craig had died. He was the propietor of Futureshock on Woodlands Road, Glasgow- and briefly on Byres Road in the 90s. His was the first comic shop I ever visited, at around the age of 19, and it was crammed with piles of  stock like a bazaar. I discovered it through the small ads in Dr. Who Monthly, when it was called Photon Books.

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photo: www.kathryncramer.com

Mr. Craig was latterly affiliated with UKIP  and although his politics didn’t really resonate with me, I want to commemorate the glorious days of the early 80s when his shop was such a big part of my enjoyment of Glasgow.

Coming soon: Stop the Presses!

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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One comment on “Swords of the South

  1. Kid Robson says:

    That’s a shock about Neil Craig. A pal and myself passed his shop on Sunday (although we were on the other side of the road). My pal asked me if I’d ever been in, and I told him yes and gave him a bit of background on Neil. I bought my TV21 #1 from him back in the early ’80s and lettered a ‘Futureshock’ masthead for him around ’84-’85, which he used on letterheads, etc. Wow! Shocker!

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