Lancer or Del Rey?


Gary Romeo, a longtime champion of L. Sprague de Camp and a frequent contributor to The Cimmerian, took a bit of umbrage at the last post’s dismissal of the de Camp/Carter pastiches. He sends in the following rebuttal:

Conan the Warrior is not really a good example of a de Camp/Carter pastiche, as it contains all Howard stories: “Red Nails,” “Jewels of Gwahlur,” and “Beyond the Black River.” No doubt old books that feature stories readily available in new volumes will lose value, but I doubt the Karl Edward Wagner edited Berkley Books (without the Ken Kelley foldouts) are doing much better on e-Bay. Although I do believe sellers than sell for 1 cent usually jack up mailing costs to still make a profit, so the sale of the book with mailing cost was probably $3-$4. Not so bad for a twenty-five-year-old, cheaply made paperback.

I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that since the de Camp/Carter books (Conan the Buccaneer, Conan of the Isles, etc.) are not available in new editions they might have held their value if not for the Law of Supply and Demand. It is well known that the de Camp-edited Lancer/Ace Conan series sold in the millions, but today there are far too few devotee Conan fans to make such an enormous supply of used books scarce. The Del Rey series appears to be doing well enough, but it is nowhere near the success of the de Camp edited series. By your reasoning the big question is not “who care[s] about getting the de Camp/Carter pastiches?” but “who cares about the new Del Reys?” What is it, maybe less than a 10th of the people who cared about the Lancer/Ace series?

For the record, in the last few weeks Conan the Buccaneer has also sold at auction for a mere 1 cent, and failed to sell when the minimum bid on another copy was 99 cents. Too rich for most speculators, apparently. A copy did sell for a BUY IT NOW price of $1.99, but the whole point of BUY IT NOW is to pay more than something’s worth in order to get it without the hassle of an auction. Conan of the Isles did a bit better, selling a single copy at $2.54 after two bids, while numerous other copies went unsold at any price. For some of those the minimum starting bid was ridiculous: $5, $7. Another copy priced at a minimum bid of 99 cents also failed to sell.

Meanwhile, what about the Berkleys? They typically sell from $1-$3 per paperback copy, while one set of three hardbacks went for over $20. At the paperback level, the price difference between them and the Lancer/Ace Conans is negligible. The Berkley’s have always suffered from the same problem that the Grants did, namely they weren’t complete. Now that a textually restored complete set is available, they too will go the way of the dodo and the Baens, with the Wagner intros perhaps being pulled and preserved in some critical anthology. So will the Grants, and so will the Gnomes (although the Gnomes will maintain collectability due to their being the first complete set of Conan, more or less, in hardback. But people won’t be seeking them out to read, but only to collect).

Unlike many of my Howardian compatriots, I do think Gary has a point about the old Lancers selling better back then. There was something magical going on there. Few would dare argue, for instance, that any Conan art done in the four decades since even comes close to approaching the genius at play in those Frazetta covers. If this new Del Rey set ever gets published in mass market with no modern illos but with the Frazetta paintings used as covers and interior plates, look out! — it would make a big difference, I think.

To give de Camp his due, I also remember the palpable excitement I felt when discovering the Ace Conans in the early 1980s as a ten-year-old. Specifically, I marveled at and reveled in the “saga” that had been assembled, the sense of history and continuity that echoed what I had earlier felt in The Lord of the Rings. At the time, I liked those textual bridges linking the stories together, I loved the map, and while I did notice a qualitative difference between the Howard tales and the filler, it didn’t bother my teenage sense of taste overmuch. As Gary so often points out, that entire vibe was created with great originality and skill by de Camp — it was his brainchild, and it worked.

Gary’s probably right: re-releasing the entire “saga” today with those Frazetta covers (perhaps with the non-Frazetta books merged into the others, or with the old Ken Kelly Berkley covers substituting for the terrible Duillo/Vallejo ones), and with new intros to give the whole works a “bringing back the classics” feel, would likely sell very well, much better than the Del Reys. That series achieved a power that was far greater than the sum of its parts, and while hardcore Howard fans generally can’t bring themselves to dive back into the Lancers and recapture that magical thrill, a new generation of Conan fans and nostalgic old-timers — the guys who adore the films and the comics, for instance, or modern RPG players — would eat it up.

So will it ever happen? I don’t think so, not from a major publisher anyway. Probably the best that can be done is to strike a deal to repackage the de Camp/Carter stories into a separate set of their own, but of course that won’t achieve the effect Gary is pining for. De Camp/Carter without Howard attached isn’t magical at all to the vast majority of fans.

My dream Conan set would be three big meaty hardcovers, text in a large readable font, each with a Frazetta painting on the cover and a second one on the back cover, a very large, redrawn, full-color fold-out map glued onto the boards with little lines and markers showing Conan’s travels, and the stories presented in the order of Conan’s life with no fragments or editorial distractions of any kind aside from a short, evocative introduction — written by ME, ha ha ha. I’ll probably make a single set like that for myself someday just to have around the house and on the shelf.

eBay Sanity


Taking a look at eBay these days provides a much different picture than a few months back. If you look at the Completed Items under “Robert E. Howard,” you see a whole list of books listed in the overpriced $150 range, all of which went unsold. Meanwhile, the limited chapbook of [redacted]’s The Very Best of Outnumbered and Alone went for $78.50 in furious bidding. This was a little chapbook given out for free at the Blood & Thunder release party at the World Fantasy Convention not three months ago. I forgot to pick one up during all the hubbub — luckily I have all the original Outnumbered and Alone‘s from REHupa.

I see that people are still trying to sell Dark Valley Destiny at a markup of 300%. An unread copy — signed, numbered, and slipcased — failed to go for $59.99, and now there’s another copy up sans slipcase for the same minimum bid. Look around and be patient, and you should be able to get it for $20.00. I imagine the price will drop further now that Mark’s bio is out there offering an alternative.

What else…the ultra rare, almost one-of-a-kind copy of Howard’s The All-Around Magazine failed to go for a minimum bid of $5000.00. I could see a typescript of a really hot Howard story going for that much, but not a piddly little bit of juvenilia. Someday for sure, but not yet.

Notice that the price for the Baen series has plummeted since the Del Rey’s appeared and made their versions of Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and Kull painfully obsolete. Wasn’t it not too long ago that some of those books were going for up to $40? Now the whole set is hovering around $10. I imagine when the Del Rey Horror of REH comes out in a year or two that will reduce the value of some of the other books in that group. Some of the introductions are still worthwhile, but it will be a small matter to reprint them in a critical anthology someday.

The Lancer/Ace Conans are now proving the point that so many have made for so many years: once you have a complete pure-text Conan available, who is going to care about getting the de Camp/Carter pastiches? Conan the Warrior recently sold for the grand total of 1 cent. More than it was worth? You decide.

A posting of copies of Jonathan Bacon’s old large-format chapbook Runes of Ahrh Eih Eche is currently at $12.50 — I suspect that this book’s value will be harmed by the upcoming release of the Collected Letters of REH. Last May I sold a single, slightly beat-up and dog-eared copy for $11.43, about the same price as this whole lot of pristine copies is going for now. It’s clear there is a shakeout and a redistribution of prices going on. With all the new product coming out, the value of various items, some of which have remained steady for years, is starting to change. I’m interested to see which of the new releases holds or increases their value in the coming decade, and which don’t manage that jump into collectability. Will a lot of the old chapbooks, sought out sometimes for a single Howard fragment or rare poem, suddenly become superfluous to most fans? I think so, but let’s wait and see.

STEVE ADDS: $59.99 for Dark Valley Destiny? That much money should at least buy one a biography that bothers to mention “Worms of the Earth.” If these copies continue to languish, Gary Romeo will have to add value with handwritten marginalia like “True dat!” and “Lawd, yes!” and little sketches of smiley-faces and Cupids.

Update on the Competition

With The Cimmerian preparing to embark on its fourth volume, let’s take a look at what the other Howard publications are up to.


Don Herron reports that Damon Sasser, editor of The Definitive Howard Fanzine has announced on the REH Inner Circle Yahoo! Group that his next issue is going to debut in five months at the 2007 Robert E. Howard Days festival (Issue #10 debuted at this year’s World Fantasy Convention). Damon has made a habit of bringing new Two Gun Raconteur‘s to Cross Plains each summer, which not only gives attendees something to look forward to — and to get signed by Damon and his contributors, many of whom attend the event — it also brings in much needed funds for Project Pride, who then uses the money to keep the Howard House in repair and to keep Howard Days running in the black.

Looking over his website, it looks as if he’s revamped most of it, adding more pages for his various products and starting up a mini-blog of sorts to clue readers in to new Howard books appearing. This is the sort of incremental use of the web I’ve been advocating for years — we need more Robert E. Howard fans either creating websites or posting to the ones already available. Just a little bit each day builds up into a mountain over time. If Damon keeps expanding his site’s content until it serves as more than a sales depot for Two-Gun Raconteur, we’ll have to put it on the Cimmerian Awards ballot for Best Website.

It says something about this new Howard Boom that Damon has now published more issues of Two-Gun Raconteur in the past three years than he did during his whole first run back in the 1970s. That he’s able to release new ones regularly even with several other competitors in the hunt for material speaks volumes about how content-rich Howard fandom is these days. The essay winners of the first Cimmerian Awards came from three different publications, all of them not named The Cimmerian, and while The Cimmerian cleaned up in that category last year it looks as if 2007’s Awards once again has lots of different venues threatening to take a Skull home to momma.

Damon’s textual discovery of the bastardized version of “Three-Bladed Doom” is not only competing in the essay category, but also the Black River Award category for Special Achievement. And Damon’s hat is in the ring for the Black Circle Award as well. Given his rock solid production at the start of this millennium, I’m guessing that Damon winning this highest of accolades is not a matter of if but when.


There’s some news over on The Dark Man website as well. Apparently the Board Members have finally had enough of Seele-Brennt’s endemic publishing delays, and as a result have pulled up stakes and moved elsewhere. This is the latest in a streak of positive moves for the journal. In the last year they have made strides in publishing fairly regularly, and their Christmas surprise issue focused on “Isle of the Eons” has received great reviews from everyone I’ve heard from. Recent Letters to the Editor have also merited attention, whether or not one agrees with the missives in question. Ed Waterman’s complete destruction of S. T. Joshi in their argument about REH and Philosophy is already legendary in knowledgeable Howardian circles, and new Board Member Jeffrey Kahan’s perverse obsession with homoerotic themes in Howard’s fiction provides many belly laughs for your Dark Man dollar, a refreshing change from the over-stodgy, self-important issues of old. That’s exactly what needs to be done to jump-start a moribund forum: think out of the box, dream up new ways to surprise and please your readers, and for Pete’s sake come out as often as possible. Dumping hapless Seele-Brennt for Lulu or some other instant publisher should go a long way towards making that happen.

The downside is that the format gets modified for TDM yet again, making those collectors who prize uniformity that much grumpier. But really, any chance at meeting that goal was blown several iterations ago, so one more change isn’t going to make it any worse. I would think, in fact, that an eclectic variety of looks might have its own appeal to collectors. Other mags like The Howard Review and Nyctalops made similar stylistic leaps over the years they were active. Besides, the Seele-Brennt format was fairly hideous to look at — one distributor told me about how it’s near-impossible for him to sell anything in that entire line due to the small, ugly footprint they make on a magazine rack or convention table. It can only get better from here, and it will be interesting to see what the Dark Man boys do to revamp their look. A more eye-pleasing design? Nicer fonts? Full color? Many possibilities to consider, and all of them doable on no budget these days.

As for the rest of the competition, there isn’t much to mention. Dennis McHaney has publicly stated that he’s winding down The Howard Review for good, with perhaps one more blowout finale before his final bow. Personal problems and severe gafiation has Joe Marek’s The Robert E. Howard Companion looking like a one-shot wonder. And James Van Hise’s Sword & Fantasy is coming out regularly but increasingly looks to be of little interest to Howard fans aside from the occasional reprint of some bit of lost fandom minutiae. (The day I start running hilariously inept Solomon Kane pastiches written by myself in TC, you have my leave to shoot me dead.)

Believe it or not, my dream is to see Mssrs. Sasser and Hall improve their publications to such a startling degree that they start winning Aquilonian Awards for Best Publication. It wouldn’t take much to make that category a horserace — just a slow but steady improvement in quantity and quality, issue by issue, one little nudge at a time. The Dark Man especially has made a noticeable jump upwards in this year’s Cimmerian Award voting, and given the right moves and some elbow grease, that trend could and should continue.

Not-At-All Yellow Rose


Farewell and thanks to political columnist Molly Ivins, who was as sharp as a Bowie knife and took to the warpath in print at least as eventfully as Quanah Parker did on horseback. Despite the bruises she left them with, both Bush and Clinton managed grace notes about this great lady, the former calling her ‘a Texas original” yesterday and the latter admitting last year that she was “good when she praised me…and painfully good when she criticized me.”

Ivins once called the Texas Legislature “the best free entertainment in Austin,” which makes me wonder if we should have budgeted our time differently while in that city for the World Fantasy Convention. When I first began reading [redacted]’s work, his humor struck me as Ivins-esque at times, and for some of us who, rightly or wrongly, have been enraged ever since December of 2000, she, like Howard himself, was a reminder of what wondrous beings Texans can be. Hope she and Ann Richards are making inroads on the bourbon together wherever they are.

MARK ADDS: That’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever received, Steve. Thank you Molly, for being a wondrous Texan.

LEO ADDS: I wish Ivins all the best in the Hereafter, although to get out of the cheap seats she’ll need to bring all of her rhetorical powers to bear on massaging away the various witticisms she vomited at the Big Guy while here on earth. I wasn’t a fan: her famously funny, semi-Conan-related comment about Governor Schwarzenegger looking “exactly like a condom stuffed with walnuts” was plagiarized from conservative columnist Clive James, while her more substantial plagiarism of former National Review columnist Florence King still rankles. The Bush statement Steve mentions was telling — after calling her a “Texas original” he went on to say: “She was loved by her readers and by her many friends, particularly in Central Texas. I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase. She fought her illness with that same passion. Her quick wit and commitment to her beliefs will be missed. Laura and I send our condolences to Molly Ivins’ family and friends.” That’s far more grace and common decency than Ivins ever granted him, and I wonder if her reputation will long survive the dwindling half-life of the scathing political hatchet jobs for which she is most revered. I wouldn’t bet on it.