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?