It was the Lieb- thing that got me pondering. The name rattled around in my brain box for a while, like a .22 calibre slug in an episode of CSI, then sprang out not once … but twice.
Two Liebers… but spelt slightly differently, which have had a major impact on my writing and life in general. Now, were I a cool man then I’d be saying it was Jerry Leiber, who wrote ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Stand by Me’ and ‘Stuck in the middle with you.’
But coolness has never been a label attached to my Gandhi-like torso…
The first is an obvious one…it’s Fritz Leiber. When I started playing DnD in the early Eighties I looked around for books that would give me inspiration to write adventures for the motley crew that I played with. LOTR, as worthy a book as it is, is not one to dip in and out of or indeed just flick through. I needed something a bit lighter and more action and monster orientated. This was pre-Dragonlance and I initially went for Robert E Howard’s Conan, which was fun. But it lacked something, and that something was what I found in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
Leiber’s heroes were far more rounded than the muscle-bound Conan and the stories carried a great blend of humour, grittiness and cynicism. Both characters were essentially rogues, like fantasy Han-Solos, stealing, fighting, drinking and carousing. They wheeled and dealed in the lands of Nehwon, primarily in the greatest fantasy city of all… that of Lankhmar. Mouser was my favourite- a mix of thief and amateur sorcerer with a sizeable dose of cynicism in him, who none the less had intermittent bouts of kindness well up from him.
The Swords sequence comprised six books and through the series the characters matured. As a RPG they gained extra kudos as they featured in Deities and Demigods, which I think was how I first came upon them.
Given the current craze in rekindling vintage fantasy I’m hoping that these two will get a look in.
The second Lieber? This one is less obvious…Stan Lee, or Stanley Martin Lieber, must be known to everyone on the planet with a pulse as the creator of Marvel legends. I cannot emphasise enough what a total influence Stan Lee’s creations had on me as a kid and my desire to create and write. In the late Seventies Marvel produced a bunch of British imprints of their US titles and also reprints of the classic Sixties stories in ‘pocketbooks.’ I was thrilled to see that they are printing them once more through Panini. The lee-Kirby Fantastic Four remains my favourite ever comics for so many reasons. The stories were so over the top, so grandiose and so imaginative. This was the era of the Silver Surfer, Galactus, the Inhumans, Skrulls and Kree, Annhilus, Blastaar and, of course, Doctor Doom… how only Jack Kirby could draw him. And the prose…aw, man. Never have there been such excesses of adjectives and exclamation marks! The use of ‘true believer’ and ‘pilgrim’ conveyed a feeling of being in a special club that was so lacking in DC comics and the hundredth re-boot of Superman. It was like they didn’t give a crap about anyone’s opinion, they just created and had a laugh.
(Grant Morrison did a take-off of Sixties FF comics in a Doom Patrol story called ‘And men shall call him hero.’ It was based on a Lee-Kirby story ‘This man…this monster,’ and had Doom Patrol done as ‘The legion of the Strange’ teaming up with another super group against a Galactus take-off, complete with OTT captions. It trod the fine line between homage and piss-take).
It’s often joked about now but I loved it as a kid and I love it still. The sheer scope of what they did was unlike anything I’d ever read. It fired the imagination far more than any Star Wars or Star Trek ever could and showed me that really the universe was the limit (well, the Microverse and the Negative Zone were, I suppose).
So my own Liebsters should go to the two famous Leibers/Liebers that still influence and inspire me to this day.