Wednesday, August 12, 2015


There's a story that the late Forrest J. Ackerman told often and with great relish. Heck, he told it to me both times I had the honor to be in his presence (and remind me to tell my Forry stories some day). It goes something like this:

"When I was a boy, magazines could talk. I saw the cover of the first issue of  AMAZING STORIES (April, 1926) when I was a young lad and the magazine spoke to me. It said, take me home little boy, you will love me!" Of course, Forry took it home (after paying for it) and love it he did. It became one of the touchstones of his long and celebrated life as a science fiction fan (among many other appellations).

I had a similar experience when I was twelve-years-old. It was 1968. I was in the seventh-grade at O.Henry Junior High School. My buddy Steve Cook and I had gone to see a movie downtown at either the Paramount or the State Theater. I don't remember which theater and I don't recall the film but I do know that afterwards, we went into a bookstore (Garner and Smith?) across Congress Avenue from the theaters to poke around for awhile before we caught the bus for our ride home.

I was looking around at the science fiction and fantasy books and there I saw it. A paperback, published by Lancer, called CONAN THE AVENGER. I had no idea who this Conan dude was but I sure knew the cover artist. It was none other than Frank Frazetta, whose work I had admired on various covers of Warren Publishing's CREEPY and EERIE black-and-white horror comics magazines. Frazetta was an incredible artist and this was one terrific image. This one scene with Conan charging in, bat-winged demons in the background, a semi-naked female on a slab, a mad wizard with a wicked knife held above his head and a gator and an octopus climbing up the steps of the altar from the primordial depths, blew my mind. You bet this baby spoke to me and you know what it said.

I bought the book and devoured it over the course of the weekend. I was immediately hooked on Conan the Barbarian as a character and sword and sorcery as a genre. I made a note to look for more of these cool books with the barbarian pulp hero and cover art by Frazetta. The irony is that the story in the book, THE RETURN OF CONAN, wasn't written by the great Robert E. Howard. It was penned by Bjorn Nyberg and L. Sprague de Camp (and remind me to tell my story about meeting him one of these days). In fact, the only pure Howard material in the book was THE HYBORIAN AGE, PART 2, which, honestly, kinda bored me. I became a Conan fan without having read an actual REH Conan story.

Of course, that soon changed when I purchased my next Lancer Conan paperback and discovered the storytelling magic of Howard. He quickly became one of my all time favorite writers (a position he still holds to this day). I've got quite a few stories to tell about REH involving Brownwood and Cross Plains, Texas and one of these days, I 'll get around to telling them here.

But for now, I just want to confirm that Forrest Ackerman was right. And was there ever any doubt? When I was twelve-years-old, a paperback book spoke to me in a voice I've never forgotten.

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