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pigeons from hell cover

As a big fan of Dark Horse Comics’ recent adaptations of Conan, I hoped to find adventure in some of Robert E. Howard’s other stories. The Dark Horse series often featured on their letters pages, in the original single issues, short comic strips about Howard’s life taken from his memoirs. When I purchased this 1976 edition of Pigeons from Hell, finding a brief bio from Robert E. Howard himself was an unexpected treat.

And yes, the deciding factor on choosing this book was the awesome dinosaur painting by artist Jeff Jones on the cover. Jones led an interesting life, at one point marrying comic book writer Louise Simonson and later living as a female under the name Jeffrey Catherine Jones. You can find a small sample of Jones’ 100+ book covers in a free online gallery.

All but one of the thirteen stories in this book originally saw publication in Weird Tales from 1925 to 1938. Combining elements of horror, fantasy, and western genres, they all read as fairly straight-forward narratives. Howard provides some creepy moments but not really any shocking twists and turns — at least not by today’s standards, where movie audiences expect some kind of revelation to re-frame everything at the end of the story.

On the downside, this edition suffers from poor proofreading, with several typos per story. You might prefer to spend a couple more dollars than I did and get a more recent edition. In general, Howard’s prose is fast-moving and tight, but it could use a little editorial tune-up to hone its edge. Nevertheless, most of these stories make for a good, quick read and would be well-suited for adaptations as comic books.

Below, you can read the pages from the introduction: a letter from Robert E. Howard about his life and his thoughts on writing. The first paragraph is by Glenn Lord, an agent for Howard’s estate. I liked one of Howard’s rebellious sentences so much that I made it the epigraph to my short story Whipping Boy, in the first Meteor Mags Omnibus: “Life’s not worth living if somebody thinks he’s in authority over you.”

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