Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

What the Voice Said

Prepare yourselves, prepare yourselves
For doors that open by themselves;

For trunks that lock without a sound,
For paw-marks of a great black hound,

For muted whimpers in the wall,
And fearful scratchings in the hall.

Your doom will come by tens and twelves:
Prepare yourselves, prepare yourselves.

-Stanley McNail

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Mystery of the Lincoln Stones [UPDATED]

In our last post we wrote a little about how creating a biography in comic strip form, and having to draw the elements involved, can sometimes lead to questions no one thought to ask before. Today, we'll give you another example.

After leaving Roswell on the morning of June 19, 1935, Robert E. Howard and Truett Vinson drove to the town of Lincoln, NM -- epicenter of the bloody Lincoln County War of 1878.

Lincoln today is virtually unchanged from when Bob saw it, and not only that, it's virtually unchanged from its heyday in the 1870's and '80's. Pretty much the entire town was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and has been called "the best preserved cowtown in the United States." One of the highlights of the town is the courthouse where Billy the Kid was being held prisoner before gunning down his guards and escaping on April 28, 1881.

REH wrote of touring the courthouse, trying to follow in the Kid's footsteps from that infamous day, and at one point looking out the window from which the Kid gunned down Pat Garrett's deputy, Robert Ollinger.

Outside the courthouse today, there is a marble stone marking the site where Olliger fell after being struck by the Kid's buckshot (and a similar stone marking where Deputy James Bell likewise died). Obviously, the stone would make a great visual to go with REH's text -- but, we had to ask ourselves, were those stones there in 1935 when REH visited the courthouse, or were they added later?

We assumed it would be no problem to establish the date they were laid. We simply called the on-site Historical Society and asked. Unfortunately, the very nice man we spoke to did not know, but he did put us in touch with another very nice man, Mike Pitel, who is a historian and a Billy the Kid / Lincoln County War expert, as well as a former New Mexico state tourism official. Though he had spent over twenty years researching the town of Lincoln and other related Lincoln County War sites, he admitted that it had never occurred to him to ask about those stone markers.

He did, however, share a glimpse into his vast historical knowledge of Billy the Kid, and kindly put us in touch with other BtK and Lincoln County War experts. They also shared fascinating Billy the Kid information, but none of them had any idea about the stone markers.

In the end, with the deadline looming, we couldn't in good conscience show the Ollinger marker. Instead we could only show Bob looking out the window, with no indication of what he might be seeing down below.

So when WERE those stones put there? The consensus among the Billy the Kid scholars was that they were most likely added during a WPA restoration of the site in 1937 -- though they all admitted that they had no evidence for this opinion. This may very well be the case, but we wonder if the stones might not be from closer to the Kid's own era. His nefarious exploits had made Lincoln a big tourist draw long before the New Deal. It wouldn't be surprising to discover that local interests, such as the Wortley Hotel (once owned by Pat Garrett!) across the street, had them put in as lure for sight-seers.

We intend to keep pulling on that thread, and maybe finding the answer before we create a comprehensive collection of these strips, if, for no other reason, than to be able to share the info with the kind and generous men who did their best to help us, and, in some small way, add to the scholarly (though, in this case, admittedly peripheral) knowledge on the famous outlaw, Billy the Kid.

• • •

UPDATE: In the comments, Keith West rightly points out the problem with the Torreon -- the large circular structure you see in the second illustration at the top of this post. Like the courthouse, we knew that the Torreon had been restored, but unlike the courthouse, we couldn't find any reference showing its condition in 1935. We absolutely had to show it (it being one of the coolest looking things in Lincoln, and a structure REH specifically talked about seeing), but we didn't know exactly what to draw.

In this case, since we knew it was there in 1935, we felt comfortable including it in the strip, but were forced to use more modern reference for the visuals. Shortly after the strip went to press (don't it figure), we finally found the reference we were looking for, so we went back and revised the drawing to more accurately represent the Torreon as REH saw it (unfortunately, it wasn't quite as formidable and cool looking as it is today -- it looked a little sad, actually). Here's the revised panel:

New research material becomes available every day, so this happens occasionally (not often, but definitely more often than we'd like), and we always go back and revise the strips in our archives to match any new scholarship that comes into our possession.  When we do finally gather all of these strips into a comprehensive collection, it'll be these revised versions of the strips we use.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

" 30 years for the Internet!"

A friend of ours tipped us off to a podcast called "Hideous Energy", whose 200th episode reviews the Robert E. Howard bio-movie The Whole Wide World.

Although the hosts do unfortunately repeat a few of the usual (incorrect) biographical assumptions about REH that litter the Internet, most of the podcast is more concerned with their point of view on the movie, mixed in with humor and conversation.

(As an aside to that -- at one point the hosts question the pronunciation of the name Conan in TWWW. Although the Conan movies tend to pronounce the name as Co-nan, according to Novalyne Price and Tevis Clyde Smith, REH pronounced the name of his character as Co-nin. The opposite of how the movies tend to pronounce Tarzan as Tar-zin, while his creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs pronounced it Tar-zan.)

Towards the end of the show, they favorably review The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob, and one of the hosts says: 

Every single one that I ever read was awesome -- and I'm pretty sure there's no collection of them, which breaks my f**king heart, because I would read an entire book of the things.

Unfortunately, they didn't seem to think the strip was still being published, and estimated that there were probably only about 40 to 60 strips in existence.

THIS got our attention, so we'd like to clear a few things up...

YES, the strips are still being published and appear in all of the main Conan titles from Dark Horse every month (plus the Savage Sword series). Far from only having 60 strips, we recently passed the 200-strip mark for Dark Horse! Which also means that we're getting closer to publishing a complete collection of the strips -- just a couple more years. It will happen. Sorry for the wait.

They mention this blog, which they rightly point out is, "Insanely out of date." It's been two years today since we posted anything (we were surprised, too). They define two-years as being, "like 30 years for the Internet."

Okay, okay -- we get it! This thing needs some new posts. Since Two-Gun Bob is the topic of the moment (and we don't want people to think it's not being published anymore), we'll start there.

One of the things we did recently in the strip was to chronicle REH's 1935 road-trip to New Mexico with Truett Vinson. Usually the strips skip around chronologically in REH's life, but we decided to do this particular sequence in chronological order -- partly because the very nature of a road-trip seemed to call for it, but also because the research involved would be pretty complicated, and doing the trip in sequence helped keep everything straight.

Creating a biography in comics form often means that we end up having to ask a lot of odd questions that a prose biographer would never have to deal with -- specifically, what did it LOOK like. Consequently, we end up occasionally tripping over something new (usually only of interest to those who care about biographical minutiae -- but we want to get it right, and biography is all in the details). In this case, the trip hit the first detail-bump before it had even left the Howard's driveway.

In his July 1935 letter to H. P. Lovecraft, REH writes the following (quoted in the panel below):

As you see, REH says they left Cross Plains on June 19th, but we have a postcard that REH mailed to Novalyne Price from Roswell, NM, postmarked 12:30 PM that same day. It had always been assumed that they had left Cross Plains VERY early in the morning, arriving in Roswell a little past noon, at which time REH mailed his card. The route they took is, according to Google Maps, about 470 miles -- 7 hours, under today's conditions. But after drawing several panels of his 1935 Chevy, and the endless dirt roads, detours, and highway construction REH says they encountered between Cross Plains and Roswell -- not to mention drawing a close-up of the route from a period gas-station map in the strip -- it was easy to see that this just couldn't have happened.

We ran our suspicions past our resident REH guru, Rusty Burke, and after a few back-and-forth emails, Rusty agreed and pointed out the following:

Just noticed this morning that Bob helpfully gave Derleth his starting and ending times for his return trip from El Paso to Cross Plains -- starting at 6:00 am Mountain Time (=7:00 Central Time), ending at 11:00 pm Central. So 16 hours to go 570 miles = 35.625 miles per hour. If we apply a similar standard to the trip from Cross Plains to Roswell, we'd get about 470 miles, a tad over 13 hours. Probably have to add a little to that total, allowing for the construction and poor condition of roads. Say they left CP around 6 am, 13 hours puts them in Roswell about 7 pm Central Time, but they gain the hour with the switch to Mountain, so 6 pm -- add in another hour or so for the road conditions.

So, REH was mistaken. He and Truett actually left Cross Plains on Tuesday, June 18th and arrived in Roswell that night. The next morning (Wednesday, the 19th), they had breakfast with the muscular waitress, and still had time for REH to mail his postcard before they started back on the road.

We warned you that it would be minutiae -- but still, it's new!

We'll follow this road trip for a little while, so for our next post (in a day or two) REH and Truett get to Lincoln, NM, and we end up with a question even some of the world's foremost Billy the Kid experts couldn't answer!