|“Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser”|
Last week, Dark Horse reintroduced readers to the world of Nehwon (pronounced “No-When”). It’s the world of the magnificent, terrible city of Lankhmar, where smog chokes the citizens as they wander through the Street of Gods to worship the Gods in Lankhmar (not to be confused with the Gods of Lankhmar), while staying wary of the members of the Theives’ Guild who secretly control the city and the terrible, flesh-eating rats that scurry beneath the streets.
It’s a land where two swordsmen known as “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” sought adventure with blades as sharp as their considerable wits, as they faced incredible challenges and terrible tragedy. For decades, they were the loveable rogues of sword-and-sorcery, jovial cousins to the brutality of Robert E. Howard’s Conan or the sadness of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné.
They enjoyed a flourishing literary career both during the Golden Age of Science Fiction in the 1940s, and a renaissance during the New Wave of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the novella “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” the tale of their first (well, second) meeting became one of the few sword-and-sorcery stories to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards, usually given to science fiction.
Now, Dark Horse has not only bought author Fritz Leiber’s famous series back into print, it’s also republishing Epic Comics’ 1991 adaptations of the stories, written by Howard Chaykin and illustrated by a pre-“Hellboy” Mike Mignola.
Chaykin, who’s now the artist on “Blade” at Marvel, ranks the “Fafhrd” adaptations as among his favorite works. “I’m delighted to have that stuff in print again,” Chaykin told CBR News. “Leiber was a huge influence on me. It remains my most favorite sword-and-sorcery material ever.”
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Mignola, who’s currently working on the second Hellboy film, also has fond memories of the material. “Of all my pre-‘Hellboy’ work, this is my favorite,” Mignola said in a statement from Dark Horse, who also illustrated a series of Lankhar reprints from White Wolf. “It was a real pleasure to do it (though some bits I wish I could re-do now) and I’m thrilled to have it back in print after all these years.”
Chaykin had worked on the characters before during their short-lived run at DC in the 1970s in the five-issue series “Sword of Sorcery” (they also met Wonder Woman during this time, but that’s another story). He wasn’t completely satisfied with the results. “There was no real attempt to create the atmosphere of the books,” Chaykin said of the “Sword of Sorcery” material.
When the chance arose at Epic to get a do-over on the Fafhrd material, Chaykin leaped at the chance. “Carl Potts, the editor of the book, asked me if I was interested in writing it, and of course I was,” Chaykin says. Though he didn’t work directly with Mignola, the two’s collaboration went smoothly enough that they re-teamed for the DC graphic novel “Ironwolf: Fires of the Revolution.” “We had a great time and I was very in simpatico with him.”
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Though many of Fafhrd and the Mouser’s stories were first published in the 1930s and 1940s, Chaykin first encountered Fafhrd and the Mouser in the 1960s as Ace paperbacks reprinted as part of the sword-and-sorcery boom. “Everybody scrambled to find Edgar Rice Burroughs-like material,” Chaykin explained. “That’s how guys like Otis Adelbert Kline and John Norman got into print. Following that, in 1965, when the Robert E. Howard stuff came out from Lancer, every publisher had to have their own sword-and-sorcery line as well. That’s how things like Brak the Barbarian and the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stuff came out again, and I always thought the Fafhrd stuff was head and shoulders above the rest. I loved it.”
Chaykin said that he connected with Fafhrd and the Mouser because of the autobiographical subtext that Leiber subtly wove into the story. “I always liked the material because, underneath its sword-and-sorcery surface, it really is very much about New York in the 1930s,” Chaykin said. “Leiber was Fafhrd, and Stanley G. Weinbaum, a science fiction writer and editor of the time, and a very dear friend of Leiber’s, was the Mouser. These stories are really just thinly-disguised versions of these guys roaming the streets of Manhattan in the 1930s. It’s all very encoded, it isn’t as obvious as I’m making it sound, but it’s very much there.”
Why has Leiber’s work proven so enduring over the decades? “It’s smarter, it was more urbane, it had a definite kink to it that was an edge to the material, and it was funny!” Chaykin says. “None of the other sword-and-sorcery stories were funny, and Fafhrd had a definite wit to it that set it apart from the rest.”
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Chaykin, who’s planning to stay on “Blade” “for the duration,” said he’s “having a great time” with the book. He’s also got a new creator-owned project about the rise of civilization in the Old West that’s already out – just not in the U.S. “It’s in print now in Italy. It’s called ‘Century West,’ and we’re in the process of setting something up with a publisher for an English-language edition,” Chaykin says. “It’s the most challenging book I’ve done, very satisfying, very difficult, and I’m very happy about it. I had a ball with it.”
Dark Horse has publicly stated that it hopes to develop the Lankhmar books as films, and while Chaykin doesn’t know that he’d be involved, he does hope that one of the stories he never got a chance to adapt might make its way to the big screen. “I always thought that Leiber’s one novel, ‘The Swords of Lankhmar,’ would make a great movie,” Chaykin says.
Until then, readers still have the original books, along with Chaykin and Mignola’s adaptations, if they want to experience the wonder and terror of the city of Lankhmar.
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