Archive for August, 2012

I was talking to an English graduate the other day. She prides herself on her discerning literary taste. She asked me what I was reading.

“Comics, mostly.”

A disapproving frown. “Are you serious?”

“I’m very serious. I spend a lot of money every month on comics.”

“Do you collect them?”

“No, I read them.”

Her eyebrows were knitted in concern. “What kind of comics?”

“My favourite is Conan the Barbarian.”

“What? Is he like an alter ego? Big, brawny… Is that how you wish you were?”

“It’s because it’s based very closely on the original stories. The adaptations are very good and the art work is superb.”

I often come across this prejudice about Conan and comics. Before I’d read any Conan stories I’d heard that Robert E. Howard had a cult following. ‘Cult’ usually means not very big. But many of his stories are still in print and very easy to find. That suggests there is still a widespread demand for them, which isn’t bad considering that they were written for disposable pulp magazines 80 years ago. Maybe ‘huge’ is a better word than ‘cult.’

I started to defend the Conan stories as examples of vigorous, thrilling prose and startling imagery. But I could see the literature graduate was unimpressed. Her eyes became hot and rebellious. Her cheeks flushed. Her brows remained steadfastly knitted.

When I learned, years ago, that there were weird literary cliques who curated museums and academies dedicated to the life and works of Robert E. Howard and brought out editions of his letters, I never imagined I would ever find myself being grateful to them. Surely, if a writer is any good, he should be read, not hoarded in a museum.

But Dark Horse publish extracts from Howard’s letters in the Conan comics and they’re always fascinating to read. I can’t help being driven to learn more about the man who produced these passionate stories.

But I bit my tongue. Some people will never be convinced. I’d rather read than proselytise.

“And what about you?” I asked her to change the subject. “What have you been reading?”

“Oh, I haven’t picked up a book in fifteen years,” she said.


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