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Southwestern Discomfit: An Analysis of Gary Romeo’s Controversial Article on Robert E. Howard and Racism

Posted by Damon Sasser on 20th December 2011

by Mark Finn

Author’s Note: I am indebted to fellow scholars Jess Nevins, Rob Roehm, and Barbara Barrett for their comments and also in the sharing of their research with me in the rewriting of this paper. MF


REHupa #173 was a watershed mailing, way back in February 2002, for a number of reasons. Significantly, it was the mailing that featured Gary Romeo’s article, “Southern Discomfort.” As I read the article, I immediately noticed that Gary, in constructing his argument, was so interested in trawling the bottom that he willfully overlooked so much better stuff closer to the surface. It made me angry, and it made me instantly defensive. What I wanted to do was first ask Gary: what was your point in writing the article? Who is the target audience for it? And then I wanted to take it apart, piece by piece in my next mailing.

But I didn’t. I was new, and I didn’t want to rock the boat, or make any enemies right away. So I held my tongue. Besides, I wondered, I had no idea what my fellow REHupans thought about any of this. Maybe they agreed with Gary.

As it turned out, they did not. In the subsequent mailings, several of the older and more experienced REHupa members took Gary to task, and took a number of calculated swings at his essay, his methodology, and even his intent. I felt a lot better about my involvement in REHupa, but I regretted never having a chance to tee off on the topic.

When the REHupa website started up, it was determined that more recent, more approachable articles could also be listed on the site, if any member so wanted. Gary was one of the few people who stepped up to the plate and actually handed out articles to post. Along with his other Pro-de Camp essays was “Southern Discomfort.” I watched it go up, go live, and bit my tongue. After all, I thought, who was I to say that Gary could list all the rest of his articles, except that one? That’s when I got the idea of first doing a counterpoint article, just to balance out Gary’s essay, especially now that it was devoid of its context within the REHupa mailings and commentary structure. But at the time, I was working on what would become Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, and so, I thought, I had bigger fish to fry.

Now it’s 2011. I’ve been a member in REHupa for nearly ten years now. And it’s high time I took a whacking stick to “Southern Discomfort” publicly. It has needed it for a long time, particularly since it’s one of the most popular things accessed on the REHupa website. The number of links to it from external blogs, websites, and citations used to indicate that yes, Robert E. Howard was indeed a racist, because look, right here, this guy says so on the experts’ website, are too numerous to count. That’s the problem with Internet research: it’s grab and go, and no effort is made to fact-check it.

Well, you may consider this the official fact-check. This article assumes that someone has already read “Southern Discomfort” and want to know more about whether or not Robert E. Howard was a racist or not. If you would like the background to “Southern Discomfort,” you can go here [1] and read all about it. You can also read the initial reactions to Gary’s piece here.[2]

 Deconstructing “Southern Discomfort”

The single biggest problem with Gary’s article is that it’s unfocused and attempts to cover so much ground that his argument is spread rather thin. He uses letter quotes, biographical sources (both recounted private conversations and reminiscences), and quotes from Howard’s fiction to say that Howard was a racist, and then goes into a lengthy comparison of one of Howard’s horror stories—the most racially charged story Howard ever wrote—as if this was the sort of thing that Howard wrote all of the time. Moreover, he compares Howard’s short story, which first appeared in the pulp magazine Weird Tales (and was written with that audience in mind), with the fourth novel of a man known for his sympathetic views towards African-Americans in the forties and fifties.

It’s a set-up, from start to finish. Gary made no attempt to level the playing field by comparing Howard to other pulp authors. In his haste to make his argument that Howard was a racist, he ignored or downplayed all of the instances where Howard cast ethnic characters in a favorable or sympathetic light. The amount of material that Gary never talked about in his essay is astonishing. As a result, his argument is too narrowly framed to be of any real use to anyone, by virtue of his myriad of omissions.

Comparing Erskine Caldwell to Robert E. Howard as any kind of racial barometer is a ridiculously unfair juxtaposition. Gary says the comparison is apt, but he’s just wrong. Yes, they were both writers, and lived in the south (or southwest), but there the similarities end. Wayne Mixon, of Augusta State University, said about Caldwell’s writing, “Caldwell’s focus on the issues of class and race was more intense than that of any other white southern writer of his generation.” Those things were only of tangential and historical interest to Howard, thematically speaking. Caldwell made those the central focus in his work (and was pilloried by his community for decades because of it). Howard focused more on the elemental conflict between two warring factions, and most frequently members of different ethnic groups or “races.” Caldwell wrote novels and stories for high end magazines. Howard wrote mostly short stories for the pulps, and in a variety of genres. Excepting Howard’s own singular idea of “realism” in his fiction, he is known as the Father of Sword and Sorcery as we currently define it. There’s no real common ground between the two authors. By setting up criteria that inherently favors Caldwell, and not countering the argument with any positive race portrayals by Howard, Gary’s ringer automatically wins.

Gary begins his essay with a simplified explanation of the Hyborian Age and Conan’s world. This is followed by a couple of examples of racially-charged language, cited from an L. Sprague de Camp article on how he personally chose to edit the Conan stories. Finally, Gary begrudgingly states that the stereotyping language utilized in the Conan stories could be dismissed as standard conventions of the pulps and pulp writers in general. I would add that such stereotyping was, in fact, in wide practice throughout all of popular culture at this time—radio, the movies, magazines, newspapers, the theater…and it was universal, particularly for comedians and humor writers. When you consider that roughly one third of Howard’s professional work could be categorized as humorous, that fact is crucial. Gary then states: “But Howard has grown popular, and with increased popularity, comes increased scrutiny.” On this point, I do agree with Gary completely, and we have certainly seen increased scrutiny in Howard’s work over this past decade.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Howard's Writing, Influences, L. Sprague de Camp, Popular Culture, Pulps, Weird Tales |

Griot means “storyteller,” which is what Charles Saunders does best

Posted by Damon Sasser on 19th August 2011

The second of three planned 2011 projects authored by Charles Saunders is now available. Griots, a sword and sorcery anthology features his brand new Imaro novella. The volume features 14 stories set in African or African-inspired backgrounds. Other contributors include Linda Addison, Milton J. Davis, Kirk Johnson, Djeli A. Griot and Maurice Broaddus. The book features illustrations for each story, as well as a stunning cover by Natiq Jalil. Griots is edited by Milton J. Davis and Charles Saunders and published by MVmedia.

The first of Charles’ projects to appear this year was Damballa, his first venture into the world of pulp fiction, published in June. The novel is set in the real world of 1930s New York, which is a departure from Charles’ work in alternate fantasy worlds. The character of Damballa utilizes skills and knowledge from two worlds — Western and African culture. Charles is a longtime boxing fan and this first Damballa adventure centers around the hero stopping the sabotage of a fictional boxing match modeled after the real-life fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling.

And coming soon is Dossouye: The Dancers of Mulukau, a sequel to the first Dossouye volume published three years ago. This new book is a novel rather than a collection of interconnected short stories as was the case with the first volume. The Dancers of Mulukau will be published by Sword & Soul Media, with cover art by Mishindo who did the cover for the first Dossouye book, as well as Imaro: The Trail of Bohu and Imaro: The Naama War.

If you have not read Charles’ work before, these projects make a good starting point – believe me, you won’t be disappointed.  Also, check out his blog, which has a great essay titled “Fantasy Superfight: Conan vs. Tarzan.”

Posted in news, Pulps |

REH Word of the Week: ambergris

Posted by Jeff Shanks on 16th August 2011









1. a waxy substance consisting mainly of cholesterol secreted by the intestinal tract of the sperm whale and often found floating in the sea; used in the manufacture of perfumes

[origin: Middle English, from Old French ambre gris, “gray amber”]


“Lady, hell!” bleated Harrigan. “Do you know what she just did? Threw away my chart! The only dash-blank chart in the world that could show me how to find the island of Aragoa!”

“Was we goin’ there, cap’n?” asked the bos’n.

“Yes, we was!” yelled Harrigan. “And what for? I’ll tell you! Ambergris. A barrel full! At thirty-two dollars an ounce! You bilge-rats been grousin’ to know where we were sailin’ to–all right, I’ll tell you! And then I’m goin’ to tie that wench up and skin her stern with a rope’s end!

“A few months ago a blackbirder bound for Australia went on a reef in a storm, off a desert island, and nobody but the mate got ashore alive. They’d found a mess of the stuff floatin’ on the water, and filled a big barrel with it–and it floated ashore with him. The mate stood the solitude of the island as long as he could, and then took to sea in the ship’s boat he’d patched up. He’d salvaged a chart and marked the island’s position. He’d been weeks at sea when I picked him up, on my last voyage from Honolulu to Brisbane. He was ravin’ and let slip about the ambergris–I mean he was that grateful to me for savin’ him he told me all about it, and gimme the chart for safekeepin’, and right after that he got delirious and fell overboard and drowned–”

[From “The Girl on the Hell Ship,” originally published as “She Devil” in Spicy Adventure April 1936. The complete story can be found in the forthcoming volume Spicy Adventures, which can now be pre-ordered from the REH Foundation.]

Posted in Pulps, REH Foundation, Uncategorized, Word of the Week |

Add Some Spice to Your Life

Posted by indy on 14th August 2011

Rob Roehm, the Hardest Working Man in Howard Fandom, has announced that pre-orders are now being taken for the newest volume from the REH Foundation press, SPICY ADVENTURES. This is the much anticipated collection of REH’s more titillating (heh) writings and features a Yowsa! cover by Jim & Ruth Keegan.

Click your way on over to for all the pertinent information and pick yourselves up one of these great additions to your REH Press collection.

Here’s the table of contents:

Introduction by Patrice Louinet

The Girl on the Hell Ship (aka “She-Devil”)
Ship in Mutiny
Desert Blood
The Purple Heart of Erlik
The Dragon of Kao Tsu
Murderer’s Grog
Guns of Khartum
Daughters of Feud


Untitled Synopsis (“John Gorman . . .”)
The Girl on the Hell Ship—draft
Untitled Synopsis (Ship in Mutiny)
Ship in Mutiny—draft
List of Characters (Desert Blood)
Untitled Synopsis (The Purple Heart of Erlik)
Untitled Synopsis (Daughters of Feud)

Posted in Howard's Writing, news, Pulps, REH Foundation |

Damballa is Here!

Posted by Damon Sasser on 20th June 2011

Charles Saunders, lifelong Howard fan and author of the Imaro series, has a new pulp novel just out – here are the details:

From the heart of Africa to the streets of Harlem, a new hero is born sworn to support and protect Americans of all races and creeds; he is Damballa and he strikes from the shadows.  When the reigning black heavy weight boxing champion of the world agrees to defend his crown against a German fighter representing Hitler’s Nazis regime, the ring becomes the stage for a greater political contest. The Nazis’ agenda is to humble the American champion and prove the superiority of their pure-blood Aryan heritage. To achieve this end, they employ an unscrupulous scientist capable of transforming their warrior into a superhuman killing machine. Can the mysterious Damballa unravel their insidious plot before it is too late to save a brave and noble man? Airship 27 Productions and Cornerstone Book Publishers are proud to introduce pulpdom’s first ever 1930s African-American pulp hero as created by the acclaimed author, Charles Saunders. “Racism and sexism were a few of the ugly aspects of the pulps we’d all like to forget,” Editor Ron Fortier comments, “Minority groups based on race, sex and religion were ostracized and either ignored completely or denigrated in their outlandish portrayals. Since its creation, Airship 27 Productions has made it a goal to address these wrongs and help correct them within the context of providing top-notch action fiction to our readers. Damballa is a major step in that direction and we are truly excited about its release.” 

Praise for Damballa and writer Charles Saunders has already begun. “Having revolutionized the genre of epic fantasy with the creation of Imaro, a black warrior easily equal to such classic characters as Tarzan and Conan, Charles Saunders has done it again. This time he has created Damballa, a true hero in every sense of the word. Battling racism and evil in the 1930’s, Damballa is no pale imitation of The Shadow or The Avenger. In fact, after reading this excellent book, I think that they would be proud to consider him a brother in the ceaseless war against crime and injustice.” – Derrick Ferguson, author of “Dillon and the Voice of Odin”

Damballa by Charles Saunders features a cover by Charles Fetherolf, interior illustrations by Clayton Hinkle, with book design by award-winning artist Rob Davis.You can order Damballa here.

Posted in news, Popular Culture, Pulps |

Damballa is Coming!

Posted by Damon Sasser on 2nd December 2010

Longtime Howard fan and creator of Imaro, Charles Saunders is adding a new title to his resume – pulp fictioneer.

Charles has penned a pulp adventure in the tradition of The Shadow and The Spider. The book is titled Damballa, which is also the hero’s name. He describes his new character as the 1930s version of a well known cinema tough guy Shaft.  “Damballa, like John Shaft, will risk his neck for his fellow man,” says Charles. “The difference is, Damballa wears a cloak instead of leather jacket, and uses both ancient African wisdom and modern science in his battle against injustice.”

Damballa will be published by Airship 27 Productions. Charles and editor Ron Fortier are longtime friends and Charles was exposed to the world of caped pulp crusaders while working as a proofreader for Fortier.  He enjoyed the yarns and decided to create a 1930s black avenger in the mold of the classic pulp hero.

“I was ecstatic when Charles brought up the idea,” says Fortier. “One of the less savory aspects of the pulps was their inherent racism. The pulps of the 1930s reflected a prejudicial ignorance that was representative of the country’s attitude during those times.” Today’s modern pulp writers and editors often grapple with this sensitive issue as whether or not to depict it accurately in their stories. Some opt to ignore it altogether. “So that was the challenge,” Fortier continues. “Could Charles give us an African American hero and make it work in an authentic 1930’s New York setting?”

I can answer that question with a resounding YES!

The release date for this ground breaking pulp thriller is Spring 2011.

Posted in news, Pulps |

Machine Gun Saturday

Posted by morgan on 2nd October 2010

Posted in Pulps |

PulpFest 2010 — Last Minute Updates

Posted by Damon Sasser on 22nd July 2010

PulpFest 2010 is only a week away and some last minute updates have been posted in the Latest News section of their website.

The schedule is almost complete – one of the “New Fictioneers” readers canceled, but a replacement for the slot is in the works.

Also The Pulpster, the official PulpFest program, is finished and ready to go. This is the 19th edition of the publication and the first to have a color cover.

One of the main focal points of PulpFest 2010 will be the 90th anniversary of the legendary Black Mask magazine, which was launched in April 1920 by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan.

The best way to stay informed about PulpFest is to subscribe to their updates. Just fill in the blanks in the email list section of the home page, answer the confirmation email and you can stay in the loop on all things related to the convention.

So, if you are in the Columbus, Ohio area or can get there, you don’t want to miss PulpFest 2010.  And you won’t be alone – each year there is a sizable contingent of Robert E. Howard fans who attend — no doubt on the prowl for copies of Weird Tales and other pulps with Howard content.

Finally, an added incentive to attend will be Don Herron. The Godfather of Howard Scholarship will be there with high hopes of snagging this year’s Munsey Award.

Posted in Conventions, news, Pulps |

Confessions of a Federal Dick

Posted by morgan on 20th July 2010

This has to be my all time favorite pulp magazine title. It was a one shot by Clayton in 1930. Actually bed-sheet size instead of the usual 7 x 10 inch. It contains one long story by Lemuel de Bra and an article on the Secret Service.  The issue was reprinted later the same year as the redundantly titled Secrets of the Secret Service. I prefer the original title.

Posted in Pulps |

The Pulp Fictioneers: Frederick Faust

Posted by morgan on 10th July 2010

Mention the name Frederick Faust to a casual reader of pulp era fiction, you might get a blank look. Mention Max Brand and you will get recognition. Frederick Faust (1892-1944) was one of the kings of the pulps.  Faust was yet another discovery by Robert Davis who edited the Munsey magazine, All-Story. Davis helped discover Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, Ray Cummings etc and one of those seminal editors who help create an era. Faust started under his own name in 1917 but switched to using pseudonyms for his pulp fiction while saving his name for his poetry. Faust would write poetry part of the day and then grind out pages of pulp magazine fare which paid the bills. As Max Brand, he is best remembered today for a huge amount of western fiction he produced. He also produced spy stories, boxing, 18th Century swashbucklers, Renaissance Italy, dog stories, aviation stories etc. Faust produced a small number of fantastic stories and one lost race novel (“The Smoking Land”).

If one wanted to sample Faust, we don’t have to put together a hypothetical anthology. One already exists- The Collected Stories of Max Brand (Bison Books, 1994). Included are a spy story, one of the Tizzo stories, a Dr. Kildare story, some poetry, and of course westerns. Not a bad primer at all.

Faust’s writing style can be described as both smooth and poetic. He was not hard-boiled in his prose. His westerns are mythic westerns with no particular set time and place but a hazy Old West that probably never existed. There you will find reworkings of old Greek myths with a western setting. There is often a hint of the supernatural in his stories. Once you start reading him, you can see why he was so popular.

Faust moved from the pulps to the slick magazines in his last years. He became a correspondent in WWII. Faust died in 1944 in Italy during the offensive to break the stalemate at Monte Cassino and Anzio. Supposedly, he told the medics to get the other wounded out first during which he bled to death. So Faust gained his place in Valhalla.

One Faust reprint project I would like to see is getting all of his swashbucklers into book form. If Dorchester Publishing who continues to publish lots of “Max Brand” with their Leisure imprint ever decides to expand their adventure line beyond Gabriel Hunt books, Faust would be a great starting point.

Posted in Pulps |