Monday, February 21, 2022

A Tale of Two Adaptations

Interestingly, "The Price of Pain-Ease" was adapted twice in comics form. The first one appeared in the first issue of DC's Sword of Sorcery series (March 1973). Veteran Denny O'Neil is listed as writer, while newcomer Howard Chaykin is the artist. This was, in fact, Chaykin's first significant assignment for DC, so the adaptation has a certain historical importance.

As an adaptation of the story, though, it's awful. O'Neil truncated the story, eliminating the ghosts of Ivrian and Vlana, thereby eliminating much of the tale's melancholy tone, not to mention the central motivation of the Twain. I honestly can't fathom what O'Neil was thinking here, as his excisions undercut everything that make "The Price of Pain-Ease" memorable.

Fortunately, Chaykin at least had a chance to redeem himself, though this time as a writer rather than illustrator. At the start of the 1990s, Marvel's Epic imprint published Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, a four-issue series that adapted many of the stories featuring the titular pair, including "The Price of Pain-Ease," which appeared in issue #3 (January 1991). 

Chaykin's adaptation is vastly more faithful to the story than was O'Neil's, which would be enough to set it apart from its predecessor. Almost as remarkable is its artwork, provided by a pre-Hellboy Mike Mignola, with the inking done by the legendary Al Williamson. The Epic adaptations are universally excellent, both in terms of their fidelity and the imagery. Mignola's moody, expressionist style is well suited to Nehwon and especially suits the tone of "The Price of Pain-Ease." All the Epic comics were eventually collected in a single volume by Dark Horse in 2007. It's still in print, so far as I know, and I greatly recommend picking it up, if you've never seen it before.


  1. Interesting. I owned the S&S issue (my first encounter with Chaykin, who went on to become do quite a bit of work I really enjoyed) and agree, it was a terrible adaptation. Didn't know about the other, will have to hunt that down.

  2. I kinda love the first one. I am not a comic guy but the 70s vibe is great. It looks fun.

    But I guess the story isn't a fun one so probably the wrong tone.

  3. Never saw any of those Epic comics, have to find a copy. Thanks for the tip!

  4. I adore the Epic/Dark Horse adaptations and (whisper) I think I prefer them to the original stories. Something about them feels more Leiber than Leiber himself!

    1. Mignola did a fantastic job and really communicates the setting with the clothing, the gloom and decay. I do find the narrative a bit hard to follow though, particularly the two stories in the last volume. Something gets lost between the panels but I'm not enough of an expert in the sequential arts to articulate it.

  5. I came to Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser via the Lankhmar AD&D sourcebook and then the Epic Comics (all four of which I still own) and then one or two of the story collections.

    I only bought the DC comics as a collection last year. Not as good but still enjoyable and they weren't expensive.

    The portrayal of magic in the Epic comics is great. It's clearly degenerate and sinister.

  6. The Dark Horse adaptation is truly excellent, Mignola and Chaykin nailed the mood.