Let me just get this out of the way immediately: nothing by Robert E. Howard can truly be classified as “long lost.” His stories and novels have been constantly in print since the Lancer paperbacks revived Conan the Barbarian in the 1960s. Howard’s pulp-era stories have been recycled in so many volumes over the last 40 years that they practically rate an encyclopedia by themselves.
But some of these stand out from the crowd. The Book of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1, is one such. This Zebra paperback original from 1976 was edited by Glenn Lord and contained stories that had not been seen since their original publication in the 1920s and 1930s. The brooding poem Cimmeria was a particular favorite of mine.
Yet there’s something else that sets this book apart — the cover and interior artwork by Jeff Jones (1944-2011). Jones was one of the best fantasy illustrators of his day, but the man lived a… complicated life. More on that later.
When I first spied this paperback on the shelves in ’76, I immediately recognized Jones’ artwork. Along with Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, I considered Jones among my favorites, the kind of artist who spurred me to buy books on the strength of his artwork alone. He had painted the covers for Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser sagas, a series of books that I enjoyed immensely in the mid-1970s. In high school art class I had even tried my best to reproduce the awesome Jeff Jones cover of The Swords of Lankhmar, (shown at left). Jones also had a cartoon strip called Idyl in the National Lampoon, a magazine that was at its outrageous peak in the 1970s.
Jones’ paintings were atmospheric and dream-like, but the subject was always finely rendered, with excellent detailing. On this book in particular, the artwork stood out. There were interior illustrations as well, plus blue colored page edges, which probably contributed to the fact that The Book of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1 was more expensive than most paperbacks of the time at $1.95. A second volume appeared later that same year, also with artwork by Jones.
Despite his success (at least to my young eyes) Jeff Jones wasn’t the most contented soul. He married young and had a daughter, but Jones was never comfortable in his skin as a man. In 1998 Jones began hormone replacement therapy, changed his name to Jeffrey Catherine Jones, and lived the rest of his life as a woman. By most accounts that didn’t bring the peace he sought.
Robert E. Howard’s place in history has long-since been secured. It would make me happy if the artwork of Jeff Jones was similarly remembered.