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Howard's Conan Vs. The Artists' Renditions


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#1 deuce

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 02:33 PM

Over on another thread, the perennial subject was raised regarding how close various artists (including Frazetta) have come to representing Robert E. Howard's Cimmerian wanderer. Here are some of my thoughts:

EDIT: this thread ONLY deals with Conan artists from the Lancer editions of '66 until the present day. ANY artists before that should be discussed elsewhere.

"It really looks like Frazetta had Roy G. Krenkel (who we know was a keen fan/observer of REH) just give him descriptions of scenes and people. Then Frank ran with it. Personally, I don't see how FF sticking tighter to the stories would've hurt anything. Conan in hacked remnants of armor (in Berzerker) would've been cool. We KNOW Frazetta could do great knights/medieval. Some of his most famous works feature that."
"Frazetta was definitely the "founding bull" of the entire Howardian artistic herd. It would be almost impossible (on the basis of awe-inspiring talent AND mindset) to find someone better suited to start the REH artistic tradition. However, Frank pulled it all off (as has been noted) through sheer artistic ability. If he even read REH's yarns is doubtful. By his own admission, he based Conan himself on Italian gangsters and Slavic actors (REH would be rolling in his grave). The elements making up each painting almost always deviate from Howard's descriptions.

Generations of artists have now learned to ape the SURFACE elements of Frazetta's renditions (or of HIS imitators) while hardly ever matching the unstoppable, visceral dynamism and menace which was their MOST "Howardian" aspect. Effectively, we've been "breeding" anything remotely "Howardian" out of the artistic "herd" for about four decades.

That said, I've always thought that Frank was great at coming up with "Hyborian Age gear" (even in non-Conan work) that harked back to medieval-era stuff while never being a copy. Almost all other artists (there are a few exceptions) seem incapable of it."

"Like a lot of "extreme" forms of art, REH's yarns and Frazetta's paintings ride the razor's edge between profound comments on the darker aspects of humanity and utter silliness/parody. Their imitators almost always achieved the latter."

Edited by deuce, 18 December 2011 - 02:42 PM.

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#2 Gin-Wulf

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 06:02 PM

i do think there should be some sort of handbook/"bible" for things , as pointed out in other threads , REH was not a fan of classic greece and rome but more often than not thats the look we get.
it seems most artists go more fantasy rather than historic, i think that is one issue with the new film it looked more fantasy than historic.
i see no reason as you said a good artist could not capture the feel of REH,s writing and dynamic's while still remaining true to a more historic style.
my favorite conan art is the Buscema conan even tho he is most always in the fur loin cloth.
the other thing i have noticed is the kilted conan art witch i think is not as cliche as fur loin cloth,REH knew what kilts were and had cimmerians as the ancestors of the gaels but never put conan in a kilt. so were is the "line" that artists should not cross ?
i think on some level it is so hard because the man himself is not here to decide such as the case with say star wars were lucas has the yes no say about what we see about his creation.

#3 deuce

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 07:23 PM

i do think there should be some sort of handbook/"bible" for things , as pointed out in other threads ,


Exactly. So many elements of the Hyborian Age get distorted without a peep. Yet, I guarantee that if some filmmaker (or artist) depicted the Nordheimr as parka-clad Inuit or Lapps (which there IS some small excuse for in REH's tales), there would be scores of "knowledgeable fans" who would squeal about it. Apparently, Vikings (whom Howard never made the protagonists of a single tale) are "sacred" and "cool", but the medieval Western Europeans that Howard claimed to have such a connection with should be thrown under the bus so that Greco-Romans can "conquer" the Hyborian Age as well.

Howard's vision was artistic AND "cool". It simply requires a talented artist who cares about REH's vision to depict it. I think most artists connected with Howardian projects WOULD do so, if given a guideline that is true to REH's tales.

REH was not a fan of classic greece and rome but more often than not thats the look we get.
it seems most artists go more fantasy rather than historic, i think that is one issue with the new film it looked more fantasy than historic.
i see no reason as you said a good artist could not capture the feel of REH,s writing and dynamic's while still remaining true to a more historic style.


Damn straight. B) IN NO WAY does staying true to what REH described "hamper" or "constrict" an artist's vision. In Howard's view, the "Middle Ages" covered (roughly) a period from 400AD to 1600AD. If an artist can't find material to work with from that 1200yr period (which saw the greatest advances in arms and armour), then I'd say they're not very creative or are hobbled by their own internal strictures.

A "bible"/encyclopaedia would help ALL concerned.


my favorite conan art is the Buscema conan even tho he is most always in the fur loin cloth.



I have NEVER talked trash on Buscema. He was a truly gifted artist and one of my all-time favorites. While some of his Conan depictions were a bit generic, his illustrations were nearly always within the parameters laid down by REH.


the other thing i have noticed is the kilted conan art witch i think is not as cliche as fur loin cloth,REH knew what kilts were and had cimmerians as the ancestors of the gaels but never put conan in a kilt. so were is the "line" that artists should not cross ?
i think on some level it is so hard because the man himself is not here to decide such as the case with say star wars were lucas has the yes no say about what we see about his creation.


Personally, I have no problem with Conan wearing a kilt. However, Conan, in his youth, seems to have worn a "panther-skin loin-cloth" according to Howard. Perhaps Conan wore other garments during that time as well.

Regarding how REH saw the Hyborian Age, he said a LOT in his stories that is routinely ignored/misinterpreted and he said even more in his letters. The Hyborian Age is NOT some "blank slate" on which uninformed artists can breezily just "create as they will". If some artist for a Marvel Comic had New York cabbies driving Humvees around, people would be screaming bloody murder. There are guidelines in both instances.

As I've pointed out before, portraying Aquilonians as "Romans" actually undermines deeply-held beliefs we KNOW Robert E. Howard held. Doing so distorts his entire vision.

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#4 amster

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 09:10 PM

Moving my comments from the other thread, since they're more appropriate here.


anyway before the thread-hoopla i was saying that a kind of rubric would not be too difficult to set up- take weaponry or arms and armor. it could be scaled on 1-5 or 1 - 10, with an extreme non howardian example at one end. this would be relatively easy to do, because howard was very often explicit as to what kind of armor or sword conan had, and we know he was a student of history.

so, bat wing hilt sword with spikey mace head pommel, would get a not very howard on the rubric, for example. artists or creatives who would adhere to the rubric system would be way better informed and have a simple to use guide to nudge their creative impulses in the right direction. we wouldn't get that crazy armor like what conan is sporting on that cover of SSoC we were talking about down in illustrated, we wouldn't have gotten the ridiculous swords in CtB 2011 either. maybe something for the Encyclopedia Taranaich is putting together.


The problem with trying to emforce such a rubic is that it runs the risk a stiffling an artist's creativity. Sure, there are loads of exaples of Conan art that use so many tired sword and sorcery cliche's that they practically become parodies (like the Cover of SSoC 11, or Conan the Destroyer), but on the other hand, look at the cover to Lancer's Conan the Conqueror. Conan doesn't wear a fur loin cloth at any point in HotD, or a necklace made of teeth, or a huge leather girdle, nor does he weild a scimitar, or hold his sword and sheild high up in the air -leaving himself fully exposed -while charging into battle, nor are there any skeleton warriors in HotD. By your rubic, this painting is a complete failure, and yet it helped sell millions of volumes and is considered one of Frazetta's most classic and iconic paintings. The cover of Conan of Cimmeria is another example. Conan isn't dressed that way in the story, and yet the cover captures the spirit of The Frost Giants Daughter perfectly.

From an academic standpoint, your idea is an interesting one, I just don't think that it would be very helpful when judging art. One artist could deliver something that would rate a 5 on your scale and still manage to be dull and lifeless, while the Frazettas and Buscemas of the world have delivered 1s and yet still managed to be more Howardian in spirit.


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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#5 amster

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 09:45 PM


REH was not a fan of classic greece and rome but more often than not thats the look we get.
it seems most artists go more fantasy rather than historic, i think that is one issue with the new film it looked more fantasy than historic.
i see no reason as you said a good artist could not capture the feel of REH,s writing and dynamic's while still remaining true to a more historic style.


Damn straight. B) IN NO WAY does staying true to what REH described "hamper" or "constrict" an artist's vision. In Howard's view, the "Middle Ages" covered (roughly) a period from 400AD to 1600AD. If an artist can't find material to work with from that 1200yr period (which saw the greatest advances in arms and armour), then I'd say they're not very creative or are hobbled by their own internal strictures.

As I've pointed out before, portraying Aquilonians as "Romans" actually undermines deeply-held beliefs we KNOW Robert E. Howard held. Doing so distorts his entire vision.


I know that this thread is supposed to be devoted exclusively to the post Frazetta period, but isn't the earliest rendition of "Aquiroman" armor Norman Saunders' cover of Conan the Conqueror from 1950?
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#6 monk

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 11:31 PM

I think there was a weird tales illo actually that sparked the aqui-roman thing, from Phoenix...

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In essence, we believe that the work of any creative artist -- writer, painter, illustrator, musician, what-have-you -- is a unique expression of an artistic point of view. It should not be appropriated or altered by others without the artist's consent. No other writer has Robert E. Howard's unique point of view, and no other writer knows what Howard would have done with his character had he lived. Upon his death, his canon, the expression of his artistic vision, became fixed. Tampering with it now is desecration."

#7 monk

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 11:35 PM

speaking to this, I have to give Dan Panosian a nod here, we got into a discussion about the sword he gave to Conan on his recent run in Road of Kings for Darkhorse, and wound up figuring out a way to get rid of it, and Roy let him do it. Dan originally thought it looked cool, but if you thought about it such a hilt wouldn't make much sense to have on a sword. That other artist Darick Robertson's swords, for example, were flat out silly, on his covers. Like this one was the one I was using as the very non howard sword example:

Posted Image


Last I was talking with Mr. Panosian we started talking about a recent horde discovered in England with literally hundreds if not more reference points any artist could start roving through for tons of inspiration.

It's with Darkhorse in mind that got me thinking about a Bible/Encyclopedia and now Rubric. How awesome would it be to hand something like that to Giorello right off the bat, so he doesn't have to stab around and guess he could just hit the nail on the head out of the gate.

Edited by monk, 18 December 2011 - 11:38 PM.

"I live, I BURN WITH LIFE, I love, I slay, and am content."
"Here's to brother Painbrush, we drink to his Shade..."
"All Art Is Martial"- RZA

"Our basic purist premise:
ROBERT E. HOWARD, ENTIRELY ALONE, WITHOUT ASSISTANCE FROM ANY OTHER PERSON, CREATED THE CHARACTER CONAN OF CIMMERIA. NO OTHER PERSON OR PERSONS SHOULD BE INTRUDING THEIR WORK INTO THE VOLUMES OF HOWARD'S CONAN STORIES.
In essence, we believe that the work of any creative artist -- writer, painter, illustrator, musician, what-have-you -- is a unique expression of an artistic point of view. It should not be appropriated or altered by others without the artist's consent. No other writer has Robert E. Howard's unique point of view, and no other writer knows what Howard would have done with his character had he lived. Upon his death, his canon, the expression of his artistic vision, became fixed. Tampering with it now is desecration."

#8 Almuric

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 02:16 AM

I think there was a weird tales illo actually that sparked the aqui-roman thing, from Phoenix...

Posted Image


I think we can all agree that depictions of Conan have progressed a great deal since then. :o
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#9 Ironhand

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 08:10 AM


I think there was a weird tales illo actually that sparked the aqui-roman thing, from Phoenix...

Posted Image


I think we can all agree that depictions of Conan have progressed a great deal since then. :o

Actually, what always hits me the hardest everytime I see that illo, is how disappointing that demon is.
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
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"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

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#10 El Borak's Li'l Brother

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 07:31 PM

The only guideline to depicting Conan artistically is the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. And that is it.

As a once-long-ago-artist, within each and every story Robert E. Howard gives incredible descriptions of Conan, clothes and all! And Conan wore a vast array of clothes. Case in point, the Treasure Island Pirate outfit he wore in The Black Stranger.

When it comes to kilts and blah dee blah that surely Howard meant... Show me were Howard said or described Conan in such. Or his Cimmerian brothers, so to speak. Otherwise, it doesn't fit.

Frazetta. I will focus on his opener: The Barbarian cover for Conan the Adventurer 1966. Whether Frazetta read Howard or not as many say not leaves me wondering then how he took, by my memory, a scene out of one of the stories -- The Slithering Shadow, I believe -- where Conan stands on a dune, I believe, with a collapsed girl hanging on his leg, and expanded the scene to encompass the whole of the book with the hill of bodies and incredible background. Incredible.... True, the bracelets and bone necklace don't really fit as to Howard's decriptions (as didn't earrings and such in later works), but Frazetta sure hit Conan depictions running. He set the stage.

Anyway, that's my opinion.
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#11 deuce

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 09:11 PM

The only guideline to depicting Conan artistically is the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. And that is it.


When it comes to kilts and blah dee blah that surely Howard meant... Show me were Howard said or described Conan in such. Or his Cimmerian brothers, so to speak. Otherwise, it doesn't fit.


Are you being purposely disengenuous? Surely you already know that nobody can show you "were" REH said such because ALL he ever said about Cimmerian attire was that Conan once wore a "panther-skin lion-cloth" in his youth. That's it. So is an artist to depict every Cimmerian man, woman and child in such loincloths?

Therefore, we've got a definite grey area to deal with. IMO, the obvious place to look for clues would be in Robert E. Howard's other yarns. Specifically, those dealing with Gaels up to, say, the Cormac Fitzgeoffrey stories.

Frazetta. I will focus on his opener: The Barbarian cover for Conan the Adventurer 1966. Whether Frazetta read Howard or not as many say not leaves me wondering then how he took, by my memory, a scene out of one of the stories -- The Slithering Shadow, I believe -- where Conan stands on a dune, I believe, with a collapsed girl hanging on his leg, and expanded the scene to encompass the whole of the book with the hill of bodies and incredible background. Incredible.... True, the bracelets and bone necklace don't really fit as to Howard's decriptions (as didn't earrings and such in later works), but Frazetta sure hit Conan depictions running. He set the stage.


I'm glad you decided to finish up by reiterating some of my points from the initial post. I wasn't aware of anyone disputing that Frank Frazetta was an artist of almost unparalleled talent and power (we have several threads on Mr. Frazetta, BTW). The way in which Frazetta figures into this thread is how many non-Howardian elements from his paintings have now become standard cliches in Conan art up to the present moment. Artists glom on to the obvious points of FF's paintings while being seemingly incapable of capturing the inherent power and menace, which I would argue is the MOST Howardian thing about those works.

This thread isn't "about" Frazetta. It's about trying to sort out the added-on crap that now distorts the Cimmerian (and the Hyborian Age) Robert E. Howard described. Then, hopefully, we come up with some sort of rough guide for Conan artists in the future.

I'd really like to move on from Frazetta a little (as Monk has tried to do), but I'd like to address your point about "Whether Frazetta read Howard or not as many say not leaves me wondering" (that's a very uniquely-structured phrase, BTW). One of the "many" to "say" (and the first) was Frazetta himself. Since you seem unfamiliar with the particulars, you might want to check out this article:

http://www.thecimmer...a-cool-million/

Frank said it. More than once. We know for a fact that Roy G. Krenkel, Frank's close friend, was a major REH fan (he wrote a great intro to Sowers of the Thunder). We also know that Frank gave credit to RGK for helping to finalize the composition of "The Barbarian" (the CtA cover). Taking Mr. Frazetta's remarks about not reading REH into consideration, it seems likely that Krenkel just gave him the Cliff Notes of the tales and Frank ran with that info. When one considers how closely FF stuck to the "facts" when illustrating Tarzan and the Barsoom books (we know he read Burroughs), it would explain the deviations from Howard's descriptions.

Since you seem a little rusty on the subject of Frazetta, you might want to check out these articles as well:

http://www.thecimmer...ta-fantasy-art/

Hope that helps AND I hope we can get back to the main purpose of this thread. :)

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#12 emerald

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 09:33 PM

I think Amsterdamaged basically nailed the issue here...

"The problem with trying to enforce such a rubic is that it runs the risk a stiffling an artist's creativity.... Conan doesn't wear a fur loin cloth at any point in HotD, or a necklace made of teeth, or a huge leather girdle, nor does he weild a scimitar, or hold his sword and sheild high up in the air -leaving himself fully exposed -while charging into battle, nor are there any skeleton warriors in HotD. By your rubic, this painting is a complete failure, and yet it helped sell millions of volumes and is considered one of Frazetta's most classic and iconic paintings..."

On one hand, a "bible" for Conan artists would insure a measure of fidelity and uniformity to the art.

But on the other hand, drawing Conan has got to be one of the most intimidating tasks an artist could take on. The artist knows right off his or her work will be compared directly to the work of Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema.

And now, in addition to that burden, let's give you a "bible" telling you how you're *supposed* to draw Conan and his world.

Oh yeah, those superb artists you'll be compared to? They didn't have any such bible to work from. They were free to follow their own artistic muse and achieve greatness on their own terms. You? You're gonna need this book of instructions.
Get to work buddy, and nevermind the creative strait-jacket.

It's hard for me to believe that this would ultimately do Conan any real favors. I'm afraid that down this road a uniform, politically-correct mediocrity awaits.

#13 deuce

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 10:23 PM

I think Amsterdamaged basically nailed the issue here...

"The problem with trying to enforce such a rubic is that it runs the risk a stiffling an artist's creativity.... Conan doesn't wear a fur loin cloth at any point in HotD, or a necklace made of teeth, or a huge leather girdle, nor does he weild a scimitar, or hold his sword and sheild high up in the air -leaving himself fully exposed -while charging into battle, nor are there any skeleton warriors in HotD. By your rubic, this painting is a complete failure, and yet it helped sell millions of volumes and is considered one of Frazetta's most classic and iconic paintings..."

On one hand, a "bible" for Conan artists would insure a measure of fidelity and uniformity to the art.

But on the other hand, drawing Conan has got to be one of the most intimidating tasks an artist could take on. The artist knows right off his or her work will be compared directly to the work of Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema.

And now, in addition to that burden, let's give you a "bible" telling you how you're *supposed* to draw Conan and his world.

Oh yeah, those superb artists you'll be compared to? They didn't have any such bible to work from. They were free to follow their own artistic muse and achieve greatness on their own terms. You? You're gonna need this book of instructions.
Get to work buddy, and nevermind the creative strait-jacket.

It's hard for me to believe that this would ultimately do Conan any real favors. I'm afraid that down this road a uniform, politically-correct mediocrity awaits.


I have to say that I utterly disagree. You and Amster try to make this out to be an "either/or" situation and it's not. Never has been since art began. Not one of the artists you named (nor any future artists a hypothetical "rough guide" is aimed at) were working in a :"free" environment following their respective "muses". They were commercial illustrators. They were being paid to illustrate works by REH or based on such.

Frazetta was frequently slammed for being a commercial artist/illustrator. One of his defenders quipped that Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel work would fall under the same rubric. Right on. Now if Michelangelo had painted God the Father as Satan, I imagine that some people (including the Pope, who was paying for it) would object. Why? It wasn't what he was getting paid to do. They would've known that Michelangelo had gotten it wrong because they'd read the "guide" (and read it BEFORE they saw the painting; it was often the reverse with FF and REH).

Frazetta pulled off a couple Conan covers ("Berzerker" is probably the prime example) through sheer talent and attitude. As Amster points out, it has very little to do with what it was illustrating. You (and Amster) make it sound as if there's no possible way it could've been any different and still been great. Very likely, Fritz painted it in one day, like so many from that period.

Specifically, as I pointed out in my last post, Frazetta's many Tarzan and Barsoom paintings are QUITE accurate. Personally, I would take several of them (on sheer merit, NOT accuracy) over some of the weaker "Conan" paintings. YMMV. So, no, sticking to the material has nothing to do with whether a piece is "great" or not.

OTOH, Buscema and BWS both seem to have read the Conan yarns closely. I've never had any particular gripe about how they illustrated the stories (or the Hyborian Age in general). Once again, the "strait-jacket" doesn't seem to have cramped them too much. Gianni and Manchess (both straight-up illustrators) also did just fine sticking with Robert E. Howard's guidelines.

If you want to see what "sheer artistic freedom" can produce, compare Wyeth's Treasure Island paintings with the landscapes (and other pallid crap) he did once he had the "freedom" to "follow his muse".

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#14 monk

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 10:49 PM

also, let's remember, that lots of artists are producing work that suffers from a lack of information. I would wager that 95% of all artists use references in some form way shape or manner when completing their work. I know I did and do, and pretty much all of my peers definitely do- that is why you see such things as Roman armor over and over and over again, or the fur shorts and fur boots, or the crazy swords.

this would give conan the dose of seriousness the character needs to get, so that things like CtB 2011 doesn't wind up with the extras from capital one commercials or whacky swords and gladiator armor.

it would help out the stable of DH artists TREMENDOUSLY, because in a sense, they are spending time reinventing a well oiled wheel. A rubric such as what I have in mind would actually free them to invest their creativity in appropriate areas of their art, maintain a concise, recognizable character more closely to his original form, and in general ramp up the delivery of solid art.
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"Here's to brother Painbrush, we drink to his Shade..."
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"Our basic purist premise:
ROBERT E. HOWARD, ENTIRELY ALONE, WITHOUT ASSISTANCE FROM ANY OTHER PERSON, CREATED THE CHARACTER CONAN OF CIMMERIA. NO OTHER PERSON OR PERSONS SHOULD BE INTRUDING THEIR WORK INTO THE VOLUMES OF HOWARD'S CONAN STORIES.
In essence, we believe that the work of any creative artist -- writer, painter, illustrator, musician, what-have-you -- is a unique expression of an artistic point of view. It should not be appropriated or altered by others without the artist's consent. No other writer has Robert E. Howard's unique point of view, and no other writer knows what Howard would have done with his character had he lived. Upon his death, his canon, the expression of his artistic vision, became fixed. Tampering with it now is desecration."

#15 Taranaich

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 11:55 PM

I did a higher national diploma in illustration at college, and the one mantra my tutor instilled in us most was "if the text describes a boy in a blue jumper, you can do what you like - just don't put him in a red jumper." In other words, you have plenty of freedom as an artist, but as soon as you deviate from the text in a substantial manner, you're doing a disservice to the work you are illustrating in the first place. You might be a talented enough artist that you could captivate the viewer so much that they don't even notice the fact that you put the boy in the wrong colour of jumper, but ultimately, a book is about the book. It isn't about the illustration itself. You're selling the book's story: the book isn't selling your art.

This is why the fixation with Frazetta "making" Conan rubs me so wrong, in addition to it contradicting other facts, like the books with Duillo's covers selling just as well as the Frazettas, and that other series with Frazetta covers didn't make nearly the impact of the Lancers.

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#16 El Borak's Li'l Brother

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 11:58 PM


The only guideline to depicting Conan artistically is the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. And that is it.


When it comes to kilts and blah dee blah that surely Howard meant... Show me were Howard said or described Conan in such. Or his Cimmerian brothers, so to speak. Otherwise, it doesn't fit.


Are you being purposely disengenuous? Surely you already know that nobody can show you "were" REH said such because ALL he ever said about Cimmerian attire was that Conan once wore a "panther-skin lion-cloth" in his youth. That's it. So is an artist to depict every Cimmerian man, woman and child in such loincloths?

Therefore, we've got a definite grey area to deal with. IMO, the obvious place to look for clues would be in Robert E. Howard's other yarns. Specifically, those dealing with Gaels up to, say, the Cormac Fitzgeoffrey stories.


No, I was simply giving an opinion. And I am neither a Conan scholar or have every story photographically copied in my mind, but if "...ALL he ever said about Cimmeriann attire was that Conan once wore a 'panther-skinloin-cloth" in his youth;" it appears obvious to me, at least, Cimmerians wore animal skins. But to jump from this to they surely wore fancifully knitted kilts because in other Howard yarns... Well, it seems a stretch.

Call me crazy, but to me the true art of Conan should come from Conan's stories, for it is there you find him... His childhood and time in Cimmeria is naught but background filler.

And just to add another opinion: With more "modern" Conan art, I think John Buscema has eclipsed Frazetta in some ways. I will probably be crushed for this, but when it comes to face and attire of most if not all post-Frazetta Conan pieces I have point directly to Buscema. Forever fur loincloth, fold-over boots and broadsword. Keep in mind, that I speak "modern" in the sense of through the 80's and 90's with a minor touch of early 00's. After the first run of Darkhore's Conan and few issues of the second run I dropped out of comic books and I get glimpses of today's other Conan stuff but not much.
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#17 Gin-Wulf

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 12:17 AM

well in some ways we do have a "bible" it is the writings of REH but many artists like to ignore things they don't like it seems. so it would seem artists to need a cheat sheet kinda of "bible" like the visual guides to all things star wars.
i also think (to me anyway) that Buscema drew conan better than FF , even tho he did the fur lion cloth almost always he seems to have captured the face very well, wish it had more scars. but even in the fur for saw queen of the black cost he still got the grieves and chain mail and helmet in, better than what some newer ones are doing.

#18 mario

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 01:39 AM

I dont know, I havent ( and I dont) process the artwork based on conan from these fantastic illustrators as" this is how REH saw Conan". I have a great appreciation for the art and some of the stories built around them, but the descriptions of conan in REH's writing, tend to give the artist enough leeway. He described a large man, muscular and at times lean, black hair akin to a mane and various animalistic qualities be it a wolf a panther etc...
Stories where he wears armor or local garb to my memory ( and I'm no scholar either I dont have it ll commited to memory)I dont recall Howard comparing it to whats known historically or going through great pains in being overtly specific.my point is a rough construct is provided and artists do have a bit of leeway, provided they stick to these fundamentals.
i see the art like I see everything else with conan's name on it since REH died.A ton of fantastic interpretations, most of the art based on conan is arguably better than whats been written since Howards death, comic and paintings really capture peoples imagination.I'd like to state ( but not confidently) that more people are exposed to conans art than Howards writing, and many others were led to REh through the art ( folks growing up in the 80's the films)
But I don't visalize buscema , bws frazzetta nord, cloonan when I actually sit down and read Howard. what i visualize whatever it is based on what im reading at the moment, be it beyond the black river or ..old man and the sea.
If we were all talented artists we would all do our take based on reh because we do love the stories and character, and yet it would still be open to scrutiny, i mean what it comes down to is that we 'd have to resurrect REH and ask him what comes closest. Funny there is an illustration that Ian Fleming commisioned for 007 once. aside the black hair it bears a little resmblance to Craig, but not a young Hoagy Carmichael with a cruel mouth as Fleming describes.And no scar down his cheek, so how much leeway do authors give their own creations?

#19 Gin-Wulf

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 01:58 AM

well i think howard did describe conans outfits and that of others pretty well and still leave from for some artistic play. and it was a historic fashion not some generic fantasy garb, such in red nails it give a very detailed description of valeria,s outfit and then says conan is dressed the same but with wide belt instead of sash. that would be wide collar wide sleeve shirt, and wide legged knee breeches and tall leather boots. that is all medieval/ renaissance in style.
and there are others with great detail and description that gets over looked.
REH also gives us a face description, i would like for a police sketch artist to draw conan based only on REH,s words.
besides scars REH says his lips are thin, his brow is low and thick. i cannot recall if he gives description of jaw and nose at this time, but would not be surprised if it is in one story or another.

#20 amster

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 02:12 AM

I'd really like to move on from Frazetta a little (as Monk has tried to do), but I'd like to address your point about "Whether Frazetta read Howard or not as many say not leaves me wondering" (that's a very uniquely-structured phrase, BTW). One of the "many" to "say" (and the first) was Frazetta himself. Since you seem unfamiliar with the particulars, you might want to check out this article:

http://www.thecimmer...a-cool-million/

I didn’t read any of it. It was too opposite of what I do. I told them that. So, I drew him my way. It was really rugged. And it caught on. I didn’t care about what people thought. People who bought the books never complained about it. They probably didn’t read them.

Frank said it. More than once. We know for a fact that Roy G. Krenkel, Frank's close friend, was a major REH fan (he wrote a great intro to Sowers of the Thunder). We also know that Frank gave credit to RGK for helping to finalize the composition of "The Barbarian" (the CtA cover). Taking Mr. Frazetta's remarks about not reading REH into consideration, it seems likely that Krenkel just gave him the Cliff Notes of the tales and Frank ran with that info. When one considers how closely FF stuck to the "facts" when illustrating Tarzan and the Barsoom books (we know he read Burroughs), it would explain the deviations from Howard's descriptions.

Since you seem a little rusty on the subject of Frazetta, you might want to check out these articles as well:


I admit that I would certainly qualify as one of those who happens to be rusty on the subject of Frazetta, my only references (aside from the art itself) being the documentary Painting With Fire and the book Icon. On the subject of the Lancers (wading through all the nauseating MATTPOP stuff by Fenner) I found this quote by Frazetta on pg. 86 of Icon that is relevant to the question of whether or not he read REH and why he was more loose with his interpretation of Howard as opposed to Burroughs:

"Although I have enjoyed illustrating the works of ERB, I find them a bit slow and Victorian and the fans are too prone to condemn the artist if he hasn't been faithful to the text. I much prefer illustrating the tales of REH. They are much stronger in mood and narraration than those of Burroughs and allow a wider range of illustrative interpretations. As St. John is remembered for ERB and Tarzan, I would like to be remembered for REH and Conan. I feel a certain sense of loss that Howard isn't alive to appreciate what I've done with Conan."

So I suppose it depends on which Frazetta one is prone to believe, but let's take this statement and break it down logically: We know for a fact that Roy G. Krenkel, Frank's close friend, was a major REH fan (he wrote a great intro to Sowers of the Thunder). We also know that Frank gave credit to RGK for helping to finalize the composition of "The Barbarian" (the CtA cover). Taking Mr. Frazetta's remarks about not reading REH into consideration, it seems likely that Krenkel just gave him the Cliff Notes of the tales and Frank ran with that info.

Correct me if I'm wrong, my being rusty on the artistic process of commisioned illustrations, but I always assumed that when an artist is hired to illustrate a book, the publisher sends him a copy of the text with the implicit understanding that he's going to read it. Taking your statement at face value, Frazetta was too lazy to do what he was getting paid to do and asked his friend Roy Krenkel to take notes for him and deliver them to him either via phone, snail mail, or in person. One has to ask why Krenkel would agree to such a demand, even from a friend. Doesn't he have his own illustrations to work on (which includes reading the text)? And if Frazetta had such a sloppy and unprofessional work ethic, wouldn't have someone caught on to it at some point in his career? And if he did it with Howard, would he not do it with other commisions? Plus, from Frazetta's point of view, wouldn't it be easier to just read the damn stories than to go to the trouble of asking Roy Krenkel to do his homework for him and waiting on him to get back to him? It's not like the Lancer volumes are that long or that Howard is difficult to read.

Frazetta was frequently slammed for being a commercial artist/illustrator. One of his defenders quipped that Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel work would fall under the same rubric. Right on. Now if Michelangelo had painted God the Father as Satan, I imagine that some people (including the Pope, who was paying for it) would object. Why? It wasn't what he was getting paid to do. They would've known that Michelangelo had gotten it wrong because they'd read the "guide" (and read it BEFORE they saw the painting; it was often the reverse with FF and REH).

Michelangelo never did something as extreme as painting God the Father as Satan, but then, Frazetta never painted Conan as Thoth Amon. But I would note that Michelangelo did take liberties with the original source material.

Frazetta pulled off a couple Conan covers ("Berzerker" is probably the prime example) through sheer talent and attitude. As Amster points out, it has very little to do with what it was illustrating. You (and Amster) make it sound as if there's no possible way it could've been any different and still been great.

I'm no expert on art, but I can as someone who appreciates it, that's not how I experience it. I've been to many famous museums and have seen plenty of original artwork dating from the ancient world through the Classical period to contemporary masters, and I've never said to myself "He could have done it differently and it still would have been great".

OTOH, Buscema and BWS both seem to have read the Conan yarns closely. I've never had any particular gripe about how they illustrated the stories (or the Hyborian Age in general). Once again, the "strait-jacket" doesn't seem to have cramped them too much. Gianni and Manchess (both straight-up illustrators) also did just fine sticking with Robert E. Howard's guidelines.

I really don't see how either Buscema of Smith took less liberties than Frazetta. In the case of Buscema, he's stated that Frazetta was his inspiration for his own interpretation of Conan. In the case of Manchess, lets see how his Picts compare to Howars's descriptions:

Short men, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, lean-hipped, they were naked except for scanty loin-clouts. The firelight brought out the play of their swelling muscles in bold relief. Their dark faces were immobile, but their narrow eyes glittered with the fire that burns in the eyes of a stalking tiger. Their tangled manes were bound back with bands of copper. Swords and axes were in their hands. Crude bandages banded the limbs of some, and smears of blood were dried on their dark skins.

Looking at the illustration on page 81, I don't see tangled manes bound by bands of copper. I see mohawks, a detail that REH surely would have included had he intended it to be interpreted that way. IMO Frazetta's illustrations of Rogues in the House, the Frost Giants Daughter and the Scarlett Citadel are more accurate than a lot of Manchess' work in volume 3. But don't get me wrong, I love Manchess, I'm just not going to second guess his every artistic decision and say that "He could have made his Picts exactly like REH described them and they still would have been just as good." Maybe so, maybe not, but it would be a different piece of art with it's own strengths and weaknesses. Because his art is so good and, IMO, captures the spirit of REH's stories, I'm willing to give him a little slack.

So why did Manchess (or the Keegans, for that matter) make a consious choice to break with Howard's literal descriptions? I don't know. You'd have to ask them. I would surmise that they were trying to emphasize the American frontier metaphore that Howard was going for. Dealing with metaphore is different in illustration than in print; you have to be more overt to get the message across. So yeah, based on that, I would find such a rubric to be creatively stiffiling from an artists point of view, a proverbial REH commitee looking over your shoulder and saying "I see where you're trying to go with this interpretation, but you must stick to Howard's descriptions. Trust me. It will be just as good if you do." Art just doesn't work that way.

Edited by amsterdamaged, 30 December 2011 - 05:47 AM.

Posted Image
Money and muscle, that's what I want; to be able to do any damned thing I want and get away with it. Money won't do that altogether, because if a man is a weakling, all the money in the world won't enable him to soak an enemy himself; on the other hand, unless he has money he may not be able to get away with it.
--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--