Thursday, May 18, 2023

Another terrific Jack Gaughan cover illustration: "Almuric"

I've previously featured a handful of great cover illustrations by Hall of Fame science fiction/fantasy artist Jack Gaughan (1930-1985):
It's always a good time for more Gaughan, so featured today is the cover for the 1964 Ace edition of Robert E. Howard's Almuric. It's a fantastic illustration, with its winged creatures and dark tower in the background. To me, it sort of raises the cool-as-heck idea: What if Conan had traveled to Mordor?

Gaughan was an inspiration for so many readers and fellow artists. The 2010 book Outermost: The Art & Life of Jack Gaughan collects many of his pieces and preliminary sketches, offering some insight into his mind and process. Reviewing the book for Amazon, Tim Lukeman's only "complaint" is that the book isn't longer. Of Gaughan, he writes: "His art encompasses kinetic sketchiness, blazing swaths of saturated color, finely detailed linework, semi-abstraction, psychedelic imagery, caricature, exquisite B&W renderings like Medieval woodcuts or Lotte Reiniger's paper silhouettes … he could do it all. And yet, as I say, it's still recognizably Gaughan, never to be mistaken for the work of any other artist. There's an intensely personal essence to all of it."

As for the short novel Almuric itself, here's the rest of the rundown:

  • Cover secondary text: "Alone on an uncharted planet"
  • Author: Robert E. Howard (1906-1936)
  • Original publication date: It was serialized in three issues of Weird Tales magazine, starting in May 1939. Because this was first published three years after Howard's death, there has been some question whether the work is entirely Howard's. "It may be that Howard created a draft for such a story that was later finished by another writer," Wikipedia notes. Writing on Grognardia in 2011, James Maliszewski opines "I suspect the real truth is that Almuric is a rough draft, lacking the polish of REH's other tales, and that this roughness accounts for its seeming 'un-Howardian' qualities in places. Taken as a whole, though, it's hard to credit anyone other than Robert E. Howard as the author of Almuric."
  • Publication date of this edition: 1964
  • Publisher: Ace Books (F-305)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 157
  • Cover price: 40 cents 
  • Back cover excerpt: How Esau, alone on Almuric, with nothing but his wits and his muscles to protect him, faced Almuric's worst perils to make him master and monarch is a novel worthy of the creator of the Conan stories.
  • First sentence: It was not my original intention ever to divulge the whereabouts of Esau Cairn, or the mystery surrounding him.
  • Last sentence (deep breath, and trigger warning for colonial mentality): And we two — I an Earthman born, and Altha, a daughter of Almuric who possesses the gentler instincts of an Earthwoman — we hope to instill some of the culture of my native planet into the erstwhile savage people before we die and become as dust of my adopted planet, Almuric.
  • Random sentence from the middle: I saw it plainly then — a gigantic spider, bigger than an ox.
  • Which reminds me: We discovered another spider in our Arizona garage last night, so that was fun. Note sure whether it was a brown recluse or a wolf spider. It was not, however, the size of an ox.
  • Rating on Goodreads: 3.77 stars (out of 5)
  • Goodreads review excerpt: In 2008, Graham wrote: "As a stand-alone adventure, it’s a decent piece of writing, absolutely jam-packed with the kind of thrilling adventure and chaotic battle scenes that Howard made his own."
  • Rating on Amazon: 4.3 stars (out of 5)
  • Amazon review excerpt: In 2012, Suzanne wrote (slightly edited): "I am happy I read this book before reading the John Carter of Mars series because Almuric is more or less a rip-off of that series. ... I can ignore the fact that it's a rip-off because its an enjoyable rip-off, but the aspect I cannot ignore is how the main character is some kind of uber-fighting machine and how he doesn't really have any challenges in the books. His punches are like anvils and the poor aliens simply don't stand a chance. It is a bit like reading Harry Potter, where everything is handed to the main character on a silver platter."
  • Another take: James Enge wrote a thoughtful review of the good and bad of Almuric on Black Gate
Dusty makes her first appearance on Papergreat.

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