Howard's End

Carlton Stowers goes in search of the dark muse that inspired pulp-fiction legend Robert E. Howard, the West Texas recluse who created Conan the Barbarian

Also figuring prominently in the resurrection was Pasadena, Texas, paper-mill employee Glenn Lord, whose efforts broadened the market for Howard material and advanced the heirs to the author's work from financial windfall into a full-blown cash tornado.

"I began reading the Conan stories in the early '50s," Lord says, "and really enjoyed them. At the time there was very little known about Robert Howard, so I set out to learn as much as I could and see if I might be able to find other things he'd written." Lord soon began locating and buying copies of the old, long-gone pulps that had printed Howard stories. In time his search led him to the trunk in the California home of E. Hoffmann Price. The writer happily turned it over to him, and among the items Lord found inside were a number of unpublished manuscripts, including a half-dozen forgotten Conan tales.

With only enthusiasm and an endorsement from de Camp to offer, he suggested to the Kuykendalls that he serve as literary agent for the forgotten works of Howard. They entered into a handshake agreement that would last for 27 years. "My first year as agent for Robert Howard material," he says, "was 1965, and my commission on sales was $225.68."

One of Chicago artist Gary Gianni's sketches for The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
Pat Stowers
One of Chicago artist Gary Gianni's sketches for The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
Jack Scott, 90, is the last surviving resident of Cross Plains who knew Howard.
Jack Scott, 90, is the last surviving resident of Cross Plains who knew Howard.

Now near 70 and retired, Lord will not say what the Howard industry would go on to earn in the almost three decades during which he successfully negotiated numerous domestic and foreign book deals and movie and television contracts, as well as an agreement with Marvel Comics for rights to publish more than 500 editions of Howard-written and Howard-inspired stories, trading cards, and a line of action figures, plus T-shirts, coins, records, and art prints. Something in the neighborhood of a couple of hundred million dollars is a safe bet, says one Howard expert. And interest never seems to wane: USA Today recently reported that several studios are considering a new Conan movie, this one possibly starring World Wrestling Federation star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

And the beat continues.

A limited edition of Howard's Solomon Kane, illustrated by award-winning Chicago artist Gary Gianni, was recently released by a British publishing house and sells for $160 a copy. There is also a CD recording of three Howard poems available. A New York publisher calling itself Cross Plains Comics is producing a series of graphic novels based on Howard's writings, and a two-volume The Chronicles of Conan, including all of the original Conan stories, will soon be released by Orion, a British publisher. Current entertainment-world buzz suggests that a new television show, featuring Howard's King Kull and Red Sonja characters, and perhaps even an animated version of Conan are in the works. There are, in fact, now separate corporations for four Howard characters--Conan Productions, Inc.; Solomon Kane, Inc.; Kull Productions, Inc.; and the Red Sonja Corporation.

Sales of Howard books in Germany, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, and France continue at a brisk pace. In Bulgaria, Lord says, unauthorized versions of Howard's Conan stories have been among that country's best-sellers for years. Today, he adds, Robert E. Howard fans abroad outnumber those in the U.S.

Over the years, rights to the Howard properties have passed far afield from Dr. Kuykendall. After his death, his wife inherited the responsibility of overseeing the business, then it was passed along to a daughter, who was the first to see real signs of the oncoming Howard revival. Since 1995, all things related to Robert Howard rights have been watched over by Austin's Jack Baum, an associate commissioner with the Texas Department of Health, and his wife Barbara. "It gets a little confusing," admits Barbara, a high-school English teacher trying to explain the chain of events, "but my husband was distantly related to the Kuykendall heirs by marriage."

She admits that neither she nor her husband knew much of Robert E. Howard or his writings until they heard family members talking of the first Conan movie back in the early '80s. "We had no idea at the time," she says, "that one day we would be entrusted with the rights to his works."

Now well-versed in all things Howard, she admits that keeping up with the various publishing projects being planned and under way and fielding an ongoing stream of new offers for film deals and product licensing has become such a full-time job that she is thinking of leaving teaching to give full attention to the Howard properties.

"What we're spending a great deal of time on now," she says, "is getting a lot of his other things republished. Despite the success he's enjoyed with the Conan and Kull kinds of stories, he's been placed in a niche that really doesn't do his body of work justice. Howard wrote some wonderful Westerns, good detective stories. As an English teacher, I find his poetry is remarkable. I think there is a much wider audience for his writing out there if people are made aware that he wrote things other than the sword-and-sorcery adventure stories. During his career, he wrote something for everyone."

"Robert Howard's work in the genre of popular adventure fiction has shown a staying power and a capacity for arousing lasting enthusiasm far beyond any of his contemporaries, save only Edgar Rice Burroughs, father of the timeless hero Tarzan..."

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