Conan vs. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser – A Cover Story

I was having a conversation the other day with Howard Jones (whose The Desert of Souls is cracking sword and sorcery by the way. Pick it up!) about the importance of cover art, and I mentioned that I thought Fritz Leiber had got a raw deal with his Fafhrd and Gray Mouser covers, and that if those books had featured the heroes front and center, like the orignal Lancer Conan books had, Fafhrd and Mouser might be as well known as Conan is today.

This got me wanting to do a comparison of the books, and here it is! What follows is a cover by cover comparison of the first five books in each series, which I believe shows why the Conan books sold more. Two things first:

1 – Yes, I know the writing has something to do with the books’ popularity. But here I’m just talking about what would make a 13 year old boy pick the books up off the shelf in the first place.

2 – I’m not putting Jeff Jones down as an artist. I love Jeff Jones. Nor am I comparing him to Frazetta. This isn’t about art as much as it is about art direction.

Okay, here we go.

Conan the Adventurer vs. Swords and Deviltry

Conan – hero facing viewer, hot chick, dead bodies, skulls, flames, muscles!

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – Some guy (Mouser?) facing away, big spooky guy, no indication of hero’s personality.

Conan the Warrior vs. Swords Against Death

Conan – Hero picking a guy up by the neck and killing him with an axe!

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – A boat being threatened by a giant with a trident. Heroes too small to be seen.

Conan the Conqueror vs. Swords in the Mist

Conan – Hero charging a million guys on a leaping stallion!

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – Some guy (Fafhrd?) writhing in pain and holding a smallish sword

Conan the Usurper vs. Swords Against Wizardry

Conan – Hero facing away from viewer – but he’s got a giant snake between his legs!

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – A wizard and a planet. Heroes not even in the picture.

Conan vs. Swords of Lankhmar

Conan – Hero killing a crazed ape with a dagger! Lots of red.

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – A guy in a space suit on a sea-serpent. Heroes nowhere in sight.

So there you go. What do you think? Would Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have benefited from more commercial/traditional covers, or am I just a bitter old Leiber fan who doesn’t know when to quit?

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Date: Thursday, 11. August 2011 9:12
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  1. 1

    I’m not a fan of any of those covers, save Usurper which is quite excellent. But the Leiber covers are worse. Would better covers have helped? Possibly. But I have a friend who reads tons of fantasy who can’t get into Leiber because he says it’s too hard to read?! Possibly, Leiber just isn’t for everybody no matter how wonderful the stories and writing.

  2. 2

    Leiber isn’t for everybody, that’s true. He has a florid style and some whimsical dialog, but better covers would have helped him find a bigger slice of people who like those things – like me!

  3. 3

    Great comparisons, here.

  4. 4

    Hello, I’m a fan about Gotrek and Felix books.Could you say me something about the next book(name & date). Thank you.

  5. 5

    Hi Ismael,

    The next G+F book is the Gotrek and Felix Anthology, a collection of short stories about our heroes by different authors. I have two stories in the collection. One called “The Two Crowns of Ras Karim,” the other called “Slayer’s Honour.”

  6. 6

    Thank you for the info!! :)

  7. 7

    I agree. Those Leiber covers were real stinkaroos. It still didn’t keep me from hunting down those books in musty dusty shelves of the local bookstore once I got sucked into Leiber’s world and characters. Science Fiction Book Club also offered a HC entitled THE THREE OF SWORDS which contained Swords and Deviltry, Swords against Death, and Swords in the Mist. The cover was done by Julie Bell and showed a nice illustration of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, though a non-dynamic posed shot and the Mouser looking nothing like I ever pictured him. Still…a more enticing cover than the old PB’s.

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