Thursday, June 23, 2005

FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER #3 Epic Comics, 1991


I thought I'd do a complete 180 and talk about a good comic book for once.

This book, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser #3 (of 4) is a complete departure from Alpha Flight #121 in terms of quality. From the nice paper, the Prestige format, the careful lettering, the obvious attention to composition and color, to the witty and understated script and the lovingly created art... well, this is about as far away from Alpha Flight #121 as you can get and still be considered a comic book.

This is the third part of a four-issue limited series Epic published at the dawn of the Comics Dark Age that adapts Fritz Leiber's classic Fafhrd and Gray Mouser sword-and-sorcery stories into comic book form. Written by Howard Chaykin with pencils by Mike Fucking Mignola and inks by Al Williamson, Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser is a loving translation of Leiber's fantasy stories that manages to capture the plucky camaraderie of Leiber's eponymous heroes and the sinister world of deviltry and debauchery they swagger through.

Plus, it's pretty. Real pretty. Each book has two short stories, and each story gets a boss title card like this:

For those unfamiliar with Leiber's work, allow me to quickly explain. Fritz Leiber wrote a series of fantasy stories Back in The Day about two thieves: Fafhrd the hulking barbarian and the stealthy Gray Mouser. In books like Swords and Deviltry and Swords in The Mist, Leiber introduced us to these opportunistic adventurers, who were always running afoul of black magic while hunting for treasure or running some errand for their mysterious wizard patrons Sheelba and Ningauble. Many of the stories take place in the city of Lankhmar, a sprawling medieval metropolis of gods and thieves where anything goes. When I was a wee bairn I existed on a steady diet of Nazgul, Conan, Elric, and Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, so I was pretty stoked to see Chaykin and Mignola's series when it first came out.

These guys really nail it. The comic looks and feels like a proper Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story, from the design of ancient Lankhmar, to the banter of the two buddies, to the beguiling evil of magic, which was always dangerous and capricious in the Leiber universe. Who better than Mike "Hellboy" Mignola, to bring this seedy and ancient world to life?

And really, who is better than Howard "American Flagg" Chaykin at writing incorrigable, skirt-chasing rogues? Because when it comes down to it, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser aren't heroes in the classic mold. They're interested in a) women and b) loot, but aren't afraid of getting their hands dirty to get either. They would subscribe to the NWA philosophy of life:

To a kid looking up to me
Life ain't nothing but bitches and money
-NWA, "Gangsta Gangsta"

Here's a typical high-brow exchange between our heroes:

This book has two Leiber adaptations: "The Price of Pain Ease," in which our heroes steal a house (it's not very big) while drunk and find themselves haunted by the shades of their lost loves, and "The Bazaar of the Bizarre," wherein The Gray Mouser falls under the sway of The Devourers, sinister merchants of illusion. The stories are told with elan and wit and are carefully, lovingly illustrated by Mignola and Williamson, who is a great inker.

So there you have it, Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser. I don't know if these have ever been collected in one volume, but they're definitely worth checking out. The whole think just stinks of quality, damn it!


20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just imagining the Mouser busting out with "I Ain't Tha 1..."

Matt said...

This series was a huge influence on me. I snapped up 2-4 as they came out, but it was at least five or six years before I could ge tmy hands on #1. Glad I did, too. I've been enjoying Mignola's art since way back on Rocket Raccoon. Of course he was around before that (Corum, etc), but that was before I had money of my own, before I was old enough to choose between buying lunch at shcool and buying comics.

Zoot Koomie said...

Speaking of Corum, I'd put all of the Moorcock adaptions that First put out right up with this series in quality of both art and adaption. It's a shame First went under before they could finish them. Anyone who liked this series should definitely hunt them down.

Someone really ought to be buying the rights to this sort of thing, collecting them and getting them into bookstores.

Shane Bailey said...

Hey. I actually have that same issue. I've been looking for the rest.

kelvingreen said...

I've got one of the story collections, and Mignola does the art for the title pages, as well as the cover. I didn't know that he did a comic version too, though.
I'm going to have to check it out, and it's probably going to cost a bomb, isn't it?

Pere Ubu said...

Jeez louise.

I had no idea that this existed. Fafhrd and the Mouser are 'way cool; a comic version? Even better. Looks like Chaykin kept Lieber's sense of humor too - always one of my favorite parts.

Anonymous said...

Chaykin was writing when DC had the F&GM rights too (Sword of Sorcery, with Walt Simonson art). Probably was not involved in the Fafhrd/Gray Mouser/Wonder Woman team-up though (WW 201-202).

Scott said...

This was a great series, and very faithful to the stories. One of the first "perfect bound" comics, and published back when the Epic name actually meant something.

Matt said...

This Fafhrd and Grey mouser comic adaptation happened some time before he was chosen as artist for White Wolf's collections/reprints of the original Fritz Lieber text stories. Those hardcovers were really, really well done and designed, and are near impossible to get now. Sadly, I only have the first two (if anyone wants to help fill in my collection, that'd be awesome). There were other collections (four or five total, I can't recall), and I think all but the last featured art by Mignola. The last one featured a different artist, but someone who was able to work in Mignola's style. Was it Ryan Sook? Or maybe Steve Prescott? Or someone else? I can't remember.

Anonymous said...

Those sound cool...

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Ya know what would have made these excellent comics even better?

Adding the Brass Bishop.

Johnny B said...

Chaykin just did the pencil art on the DC Fafhrd & Mouser stories, published under the title Sword of Sorcery. Everybody in the effing world inked him on that book, including Neal Adams, Frank Brunner, and the other "Crusty Bunkers" and Berni Wrightson. Walt Simonson did a story in the last issue, #5, and probably lettered one or two of the stories. Dennis O'Neil was the scripter for all five issues, and IIRC they were nearly all adaptations of Lieber stories.

I love me some Lieber Fafhrd & Mouser stories; it's a real shame that nobody's doing them in comics form right now. I have those Chaykin/Mignola books, and they're great. Strangely enough, though, I still prefer the DC series, even though it's not at the same level of quality as the Marvel ones.

SW said...

In your example of the typical Fafhrd and Gray Mouser conversation, I noticed the names of the street: Whore Street and Cash Street.

Is that what inspired your selection of this particulat NWA quote?

If so, you've got skill, man.

kelvingreen said...

There's a guy called Peter Bergting (I think) who draws in a Mignola style, and has been a sort of understudy for Mignola in the past (he did all the art for the Hellboy rpg for example), so he may have done the last of the White Wolf collections.

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Jerome Nicolas said...

They are indeed collected under one cover:

https://www.darkhorse.com/Books/10-686/Fafhrd-and-the-Gray-Mouser