I have a soft spot for Gardner F. Fox (1911-1986). Fox is probably best remembered today as a comic book writer. He created The Flash, Hawkman, the Justice Society of America. He gave us Batman’s utility belt.
Fox also had a pulp career starting with “The Weirds of the Woodcarver” in September 1944 issue of Weird Tales. Fox went on to have three stories in Weird Tales, ten stories in Planet Stories, one in Amazing Stories, and a short novel in Marvel Science Fiction. Less known is he wrote a fair number of stories for western and sports pulp magazines. He wrote at least one hockey story.
Fox has the honor of writing the first real sword and sorcery comic, “Crom the Barbarian.” He wrote three stories total. The first two “Crom the Barbarian” and “The Spider God of Akka” appeared both in Avon’s pulp-comic hybrid Out of This World Adventures and in Strange Worlds comic book in 1950. A third story “The Giant From Beyond” was in Strange Worlds #2 in 1950. Fox wrote the scripts. John Giunta did the drawing. Giunta did some work for Weird Tales in the 1940s.
Fox wore his influences on his sleeve. He wrote two Cthulhu Mythos stories for the pulp magazines (“Weirds of the Woodcarver” and “Heart of Light”). His Planet Stories yarns show a heavy Edmond Hamilton influence with a dash of Robert E. Howard in a few.
The character of Crom is of course an homage to Robert E. Howard. Before Crom, there were some comic stories with medieval knights or lost race stories might have the suggestion of magic, sorcery, or the supernatural.
Fox has his own Nemedian Chronicles to preface the first Crom story:
“In the early day of the earth, there were many strange races and tribes, moving across the land, many cities and countries now forgotten unrecorded in any history, occasionally vague legend or unintelligible parchments in some Tibetan lamasery give a hint, vestiges of their existence still remain at Easter Island, in the damp jungles of Brazil, under the hot sands of the Sahara and the Gobi, from one of those long-lost parchments recovered in an underwater upheaval, translated by a lingual expert, we bring you this tale of the Earth’s morning, a day born in the mists of Earth’s beginning…”
“Crom was a barbarian– A man born of the yellow- haired Aesir who migrated from Asia into Europe, a man strong with muscle, his brain keen in those days of brute-like superstition and savagery, his sword was made of iron, and he lived and slept with it always at his side.
But Crom was to be swept from the caravans of his people, away from the big vans and the shaggy ponies, into a world where greed and black magic held sway, where only his sword and his wits stood to help him when he faced the horrible fate of…”
The first story is a thrill a minute. First there is an attack by the Cymri monkey men, a trip on a ship to the wizard Dwelf’s isle. A quest to steal water from the Fountain of Youth in the Tower of Ophir and then dealing with the treacherous wizard.
The second story “The Spider God of Akka,” the ship carrying Crom and his companions are driven on a jungle coast. Ape men of Akka take Crom and Tanit prisoner. Bokris, regent of Ophir refuses to pay ransom for Queen Tanit so the ape ruler of Akka throws Tanit to the pit of the spider god. Crom arrives to deal with the spider with his sword skull-cracker.
The third story “The Giant From Beyond” has Balthar the Terrible, a giant wrecking havoc. Crom has to lead a small army to deal with him.
I love Crom’s dialogue in these stories. It is classic pulp-comic book barbarian speak:
“My sword is dry! It has long been thirsty! Drink deep, Skull-cracker! Drink your fill!”
“Yield, you foul hounds of Hel!”
The Crom stories have been reprinted in various venues. I first read “The Giant From Beyond” in AC’s Barbarians and Beauties (1990). I picked up the issues of Out of This World Adventures at Pulp-Con in the nineties. There have been cds of issues of Strange Worlds, and most recently Lurid Little Nightmare Makers #2.
Enter artist Kurt Brugel. He is a Gardner Fox enthusiast and has done something very interesting. Crom the Barbarian is a public domain character. I have written this past year about orphan sword and sorcery characters and how some might see a second phase with new writers. This has happened with Crom.
Kurt has first gathered together the three Crom stories into a standard size comic book. His second foray is a reprint of Gardner Fox’s “The Warlock of Sharrador” (Planet Stories, March 1953). In a very clever twist, Kurt Brugel rewrote “The Warlock of Sharrador” and substituted Crom the Barbarian. I read the story and Kurt pulls it off. It works very well. Makes me wonder about retrofitting other Gardner Fox yarns from Planet Stories as Crom stories.
For years, I have said there is a market for a book collecting Gardner Fox stories together. Enough older comic book readers remember him and would probably purchase a book of his pulp era fiction. Fox came back to write stories for Dragon magazine in the late 1970s, which also cry out for reprint.
Gardner Fox did not produce deep thinking fiction. He wasn’t one of the great innovators. In truth, few writers are. He did have an enthusiasm for others and mixed it together to produce something entertaining.