With comics and graphic novels becoming more and more acceptable to the mainstream, more and more comics publishers are marketing their graphic novels and comics collections in mainstream bookstores. They are even making classic adaptations [like the DC mini-series based on Fritz Leiber's excellent Fahhrd & The Grey Mouser stories] available in spiffy new editions. Add to these classy reprints fabulous new collections based on the works of great writers like Harlan Ellison, and it's clear that the form is finally being recognized for the unique literary/artistic artform it is…
Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser
Fans of sword and sorcery fiction have long been aware that there was something different about Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser stories. In his introduction to Dark Horse Publishing's collection of the Marvel Comics mini-series, Howard Chaykin suggests that that difference is they are crime stories in a sword & sorcery setting. Since both The Mouser and his barbarian friend are thieves – and most of their adventures revolve around some scheme or other to acquire wealth without actually working for it, he's probably right.
Another facet of Leiber's tales is that they are uncommonly well written. Leiber had a real gift for character and atmosphere, and didn't lack for imaginative plots, either. The Dark Horse collection features issues one through four of the Marvel mini-series, adapted by Chaykin [scripts], Hellboy creator Mike Mignola [art], and inks by Al Williamson [Secret Agent X, Flash Gordon].
There are seven Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser tales included in the mini-series, beginning with Ill Met In Lankhmar, in which our heroes met each other in the midst of two separate attempts to robe the same persons of the same booty. There's also some eerie fun as the two meet the wizards who will become their employers/maters: Fafhrd's Ningauble of the Seven Eyes, and Mouser's Sheelba of the Eyeless Face. The story takes a savage twist as the fun ends with the deaths of our heroes' loves – and their vow to leave Lankhmar and never return.
In The Circle Curse, our protagonists travel the entire world trying to find surcease from the pain of their lost loves, but find them persuaded to return to Lankhmar by the two wizards. The Howling Tower introduces the pair to a particularly sly murderer and a ghostly battle ensues. The Price of Pain Ease has the pair stealing an entire house – and braving Death to steal a mask for the two wizards.
Bazaar of the Bizarre brings our heroes into contact with salesmen from another universe – salesmen whose goal is take over all the universes through bankruptcy. Lean Times In Lankhmar finds Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser's partnership dissolved; Fafhrd finding religion on the Street of Gods, and Mouser badly out of shape. Finally, in when The Sea King's Away, Fafhrd seeks to infiltrate the home of the Sea King and have his way with undersea ruler's concubines…
Between Chaykin's excellent, detailed scripts [check out a sly running gag that suggests our heroes always encounter the same two guards whenever they enter or exit Lankhmar] and Mignola's almost impressionistic pencils, the world of Newhon really comes alive. There's a touch of the exotic in all the women, and our heroes do heroic things while not seeming to be heroic in the slightest. Mignola's layouts are always interesting – a mix of smaller panels for character and exposition balanced with larger panels for action and setting atmosphere.
The legendary Al Williamson's inks heighten the edge of Mignola's pencils, and seem to make Fafhrd even larger, while making Mouser seem more slippery and sneaky [not a bad trick…]. No matter how good a series is, if it's not drawn especially for black and white [which involves much different techniques], if the colors don't work, it can reduce that series to junk. Sherlyn Van Valkenburg's colors are always appropriate to mood and tone – and she even manages to add a bit of humor to that already on the page [check out the bazaar in Bazaar of the Bizarre – the way she colors the bargain hunters and the interior of the bazaar really heightens both the humor and the horror to be found there].
Even Michael Heisler's lettering is sweet, adding the kind of atmosphere you find in the score of a movie soundtrack, and its sound editing. Top of the package with an afterword from Mignola and the first two chapters of Dark Horse's upcoming deluxe release of Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser adventure, Swords of Deviltry, and the result is a package that should appeal to sword & sorcery buffs who like a little crime fiction mixed in with their fantasy and lovers of great advenutres alike…
Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, Volume Two
Harlan Ellison is the most awarded writer in history. He's won Hugo and Nebula Awards, Edgar Awards and Screenwriters' Guild Awards [among others] – so it would seem that a comics/graphic novel adaptation of his work would be a natural. Indeed, Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor originated over a decade ago, as a regular monthly comic before shifting to a quarterly schedule. At the time, there a number of short story adaptations planned, but life happened and many of them didn't see print until much later – in this case, fifteen odd and exquisite little fables are collected in Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, Volume Two – finishing of the project that began in 1995.
You can tell that this is a first class project the instant you lay eyes on the exquisite photo-real cover portrait of Ellison by Brian Bolland. Bolland doesn't come cheap, and it's easy to see why. This is a cover that leaps of the shelf. With a number of comics' elite providing art [Eric Shanower provides the interstitials, for example], and scripts [from the likes of Mark Waid, Jan Strnad, John Ostrander and the like], the result is an anthology of clever, twisty tales that wouldn't be out of place on the classic Twilight Zone or Outer Limits [both of which aired eps written by Ellison, or based on his work].
Arguing scientists, an elderly couple with unique hobbies, a teenager who gets a wish from an incompetent djinn – these are just a few of the intriguing and occasionally even sympathetic characters who populate these tales. Throughout, Ellison's senses of humor and justice make themselves known in fresh, intriguing, and occasionally horrifying ways.
Check out what happens when the arguing scientists of The Silver Corridor can't be persuaded as to which of their theories is correct. Or perhaps the giggleworthy end-of-the-world tale, The Voice in the Garden [which plays on a classic trope] will be more to your liking. Then there's the way that Ellison provides an unexpected new take on the concept of a Rock God. These three tales feature some of the best recent art by greats like Gene Ha [Corridor], Bret Blevins [Garden] and the legendary Neal Adams [Rock God].
As I pondered Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, Volume Two, it dawned on me that the majority of these stories struck me as a collection of O'Henry tales from a malleable, otherworldly parallel dimension. Many of these tales end with twist endings, none of which lacks for justice – and all of which entertain mightily.
One of the most interesting aspects of the collection is the way that the artists match the material. From Gene Ha's realistic work on The Silver Corridor, to the underground style of Jay Lynch on Djinn, No Chaser, the artists capture the humor and terror of their assigned tales in a manner that suggests they had as much drawing them as we have reading them.
Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, Volume Two is not just going to delight Ellison fans; it should please comics fans, fantasy fans, horror fans, science fiction fans and Lewis Carroll fans [among others]. Dark Horse has put together a package that works on every level – even to the point of including two of Ellison's shorter text stories [Goodbye To All That, written in a the middle of an art gallery over two days, and The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke – both based on paintings, by Kent Bash and Therese Nielsen, reproductions of which are included].