Conan, a character that’s been in publication since 1932…think about that for a minute. The Great Depression, angst, suicides by businessmen losing their life savings, five years before Tolkien published The Hobbit, and a lifetime before creators gave us galaxies far, far away, Robert E. Howard created an entire world. The contributions this man gave the world are still terribly underappreciated. Anyone that’s not very familiar with his work, definitely give a look at his biography here.
When Roy Thomas secured the rights to publisher Conan from the REH estate, the greatness was there immediately. With Roy Thomas writing, and Barry (Windsor) Smith (and most notably Sal Buscema inking, with others) on art, the character was off and running! What followed the great run by BWS wasn’t half bad either (some say even better), but that’s a tale for another day. You get material from the second and fourth issues of the series in this book and both are legendary stories by Howard!
The character Conan, created by Robert E. Howard, is one that some feel can be a little one note, but Howard and those that followed did a great job in changing the surroundings, supporting cast, and opponents for the Cimmerian brawler. Case in point, these two issues where Conan must fight a vampire and his clan of razor-toothed warriors!
At this point, Conan has lost his love, Bêlit (she died in issue #100), and he has taken up residence with the Bamula Tribe (and become their chieftain), who is at war with the Kungado Tribe. Conan and his mates are viciously attacked by another tribe, called the Drelliks. These men are, in appearance at least, vampires! It’s going to take every ounce of strength and cunning for Conan to defeat these monsters!
One of the best reasons you can find to read these stories is of course, the creative team. Roy Thomas (writer), was the man at Marvel responsible for them acquiring the rights to print these incredible stories. Marvel then made the great decision to have first Barry Windsor-Smith, then ‘Big’ John Buscema create the visuals for these incredible books. His command of anatomy, ability to convey feelings through body language, and settings. His skills as a penciller are right at the top of the all time greats. Inking this legendary man, is Ernie Chan, who was the perfect fit for Buscema’s pencils, and the work shows it. Add George Roussos on colors, and Joe Rosen on letters, and the perfect comic book series is complete! The covers are both penciled by John Buscema, with the first inked by Al Milgrom, and the second by Bob McLeod.
The black and white magazines from the 1970s are treasures that should be on every comic book collectors list. The artwork is typically phenomenal, and the stories cool as well. One of the best of these without doubt is The Savage Sword of Conan! Each magazine is filled with stories from the barbarian and his adventures. Whether he faces a wizard, a monster, or an army, Conan will prevail!
The mags almost always have extras in them as well. In this particular issue, you’ll see a frontispiece by the terribly underrated Keith Pollard and a pin-up by Gene Day! Also, sandwiched between two tales of the Cimmerian, you get a story called “The Kozaks Ride” by Fred Blosser and some illustrations by “Marvel’s finest.” The other two stories were adapted by Roy Thomas!
The first tale, “The City of Skulls,” was a story written by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. These two sci-fi writers have a ton of credits and were obviously huge fans of Robert E. Howard! The artwork is by Mike Vosburg and Alfredo Alcala. The second story, “Wolves Beyond the Border” was written by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp.The artwork in this story is by Ernie Chan.
Now, you may be wondering how these other names came to write stories starring everyone’s favorite barbarian. Well, the truth is, many stories were written by others after Howard’s death in 1936. They were either new material using the characters created by Howard or sometimes old material that had not been completed yet by Howard himself. Throw in an incredible painted cover by Clyde Caldwell, and you have a masterpiece of fiction brought to you by Marvel Comics!
Of course, who doesn’t enjoy a good story where Conan thrashes some scoundrels, and then saves the beautiful woman! I know a lot of people will steer clear of a series like this because they think it’s very one-trick pony, but if you really enjoy the genre, give it a try! This story in particular has a very weird and twisting ending. Sometimes Conan can get a little weary in regards to the plot, but action is never missing nor is a mystical/magical aspect that always kept my interest. Throw in an evil sorcerer or a weird creature, and I’m in for the long run!
When you have a character with the history that Conan has, it’s now extremely difficult to cook up decent stories. That’s not to take anything away from Roy Thomas (writer) mind you, but the groundwork laid by Robert E. Howard (creator) surely deserves the lion-share of the credit. It certainly doesn’t hurt your book when you have an artist the caliber of “Big” John Buscema (pencils, R.I.P.) and Ernie Chan (inker on interiors and cover) to put forth a spectacular visual feast either! Add on Bronze Age stalwarts John Costanza (letters), and Glynis Wein (colors), and the book will ascend to the heights of greatness! Did I forget to mention the cover by the master, Gil Kane?
Alright, a new month, and we say goodbye to Jack Kirby, but in his absence, we will see another titan of the comic book industry that left us way to soon, in the form of ‘Big’ John Buscema! A week-long tribute to him, then on to another comic book icon! There’s no two ways about it, you have to start out with a tribute to John Buscema with that Cimmerian warrior, Conan! In the first issue of The Savage Sword of Conan #1 (cover by Boris Vallejo), we get to see Conan, as he’s doing his usual thing (partying, and getting into trouble), but then out of nowhere, as he’s attacked by some vagabonds, he’s assisted by the beautiful but dangerous, Red Sonja! The two then go on to have an adventure that includes rescuing a girl from being sacrificed on an altar by some evildoers!
Nobody could draw Conan like John Buscema (Barry Windsor-Smith did a fine job too), and when you see other renderings, you will find it to be true! Whether it was gulping down a flagon of ale, fighting in some desert war, or riding a horse across the wilderness, ‘Big’ John Buscema was king of Conan the Barbarian! Enjoy!