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PIGEONS FROM HELL
By
ROBERT E. HOWARD, SCOTT HAMPTON (Eclipse Books; 1988)

Justifiably well known though the late Robert E. Howard is for his heroic fantasy tales (of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane and other larger-than-life heroes), few people know that Howard also left behind a handful of extremely accomplished horror stories.  “Pigeons from Hell,” drafted in 1934 but published posthumously, is widely recognized as the finest of Howard’s efforts in the field.

     A forbidding account of two travelers who unwisely bed down in a deserted Southern mansion, the tale is an action-packed blast of old school scares.  Among the frights contained in and around the mansion are a Voodoo curse, a ghostly presence, a zombie, a ravenous wolf, a scary snake and the Hell-spawned pigeons of the title.  One of the protagonists dies in the melee, with the survivor joined by a pistol-packing sheriff of the type you’d expect in a Howard story.

     This 1988 volume features a learned introduction by Ramsey Campbell, who examines “Pigeons from Hell’s” place in Howard’s overall pantheon (he sees it as a sly refutation of the work of Howard’s contemporary H.P. Lovecraft).  The meat of the book, however, is a stunning graphic adaptation of the tale by the talented Scott Hampton, who reportedly spent two years drafting it.  The results are bold, colorful and unerringly skilled, just as I’d expect from the creator of THE UPTURNED STONE and other impressive feats of draftsmanship.  Hampton in my view is at his absolute best with scary and nightmarish illustrations, which was definitely the case in PIGEONS FROM HELL. 

     Hampton’s artwork is appropriately subtle and atmospheric, but also quite graphic in spots (a close-up view of brains oozing from a dead man’s head definitely ain’t for the squeamish!).  Such an approach fully suits the story, and yields images worthy of being blown up and mounted on one’s wall.  Particularly impressive panels include a wide shot of the manor where the horror takes place, the forbidding moonlit interior staircase, and the unforgettable close up of the horror awaiting atop that staircase.

     (P.S.: Yes, I know this book is out of print--track it down anyway!) 


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