I was a fan of Earl Norem and his wonderful artwork before I even knew there was a writer named Robert E. Howard.
Mr. Norem passed away on June 19th, and this news, sad as it was, did serve to remind me how this talented man’s illustrations were very much a part of my childhood. I returned to the pleasant days when I was a very young boy, visiting bookstores at least once every week, hoping to have enough change to pick up the latest Turok, Son of Stone comic, or a boxing magazine, or a copy of Real West.
This was before the Howard boom and one of my reading thrills was picking up true western mags, and my favorite was Real West, which, almost always—or so it seemed to me—sported a cover by Norem, just like the example pictured to the left.
Earl Norem helped develop my reading habits. Beautiful artwork could suck me into buying the periodical but once I got over the cover the only recourse left was to read the articles and that’s exactly what I did. During this youth of mine I devoured lots of boxing and western history, and of course couldn’t get enough of the adventures of comic characters such as Turok and his pal Andar as they battled the “honkers” of Lost Valley.
All this pre-teen activity paved the way for Howard and his yarns of pugilists, gunslingers, and of past times that never were but should have been.
Some of this is due to Earl Norem and I owe him one of those debts that can never be paid. A few years later I was amazed when I started seeing his covers to The Savage Sword of Conan. I mean what the hell? Norem was a western artist, right? I never knew until much later just how prolific this artistic juggernaut was.
During his lifetime of art Mr. Norem’s work appeared in men’s adventure magazines, Reader’s Digest and the venerable Field and Stream. When I started collecting non-sport trading cards I found more Norem, most notably on the Mars Attacks! and Conan sets which were appearing and then taking away some of my hard earned dollars. He also worked with Marvel on titles such as Tales of the Zombie and Planet of the Apes. The list is damn near endless. Always the work was top-notch and instantly recognizable as belonging to the hand of a master who could clearly draw a story as well as some writers could type it.
I am fortunate enough to have an original Norem in my poor man’s art gallery and I’ve included it here, even though my scanner has made it a bit blurry. This is from Island of Danger, a story book he illustrated which starred the Fantastic Four.
Like I said, this guy could paint anything. And he always did it well—he can’t be replaced.
One side note which may be of interest to Howard fans. The copy of Real West displayed above contains an article by Howard pal Harold Preece, “The Sorry Saga of Charley Pierce.”