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Saturday, August 22, 2009

This Week's Suspended Animation - Conan The Barbarian


Conan The Barbarian #’s 1-24, published by Marvel Comics, 32 pages, back issue prices vary.

One of the best series ever produced by Marvel Comics was, in my opinion, Conan The Barbarian. Begun in 1970, Conan was the first adaption of Robert E. Howard’s wandering Cimmerian to comic books. It made an instant splash among what became rabidly loyal readers, most likely due to the ready-made fan base inspired by the novels.

To simply label Conan a “sword and sorcery” comic does it an injustice. Though it certainly had it’s share of wizards and magicians, and there was, indeed, plenty of steel clashing and teeth-gnashing, this particular sequential series was about a man of indomitable will, from a hard, unforgiving place, making his mark on the world. Whether the world liked it or not. The character was harsh, but fair. Crude, yet, in his way, civilized. Strong, but vulnerable. (Oh, how that barbarian hated and feared magic!) And, while certainly not chivalrous, Conan had a soft spot for the damsels in distress. As long as they didn’t give him attitude.

While much of these character traits were, of course, established long before the comic book adventures, writer Roy Thomas is certainly to be given monumental accolades for his work in adapting the character to the four-color medium. His affection for the subject matter was evident on every page.

Looking back, one of the most exciting things about those first 24 issues of Conan was witnessing the rapid growth and developing maturity in the work of artist Barry (Windsor) Smith. With his work looking very much like a series of Jack Kirby knock-offs in the first few issues, the young artist quickly began to come into his own. In short order, his figures became more lifelike, his settings more intricate, his storytelling more dynamic, his women certainly more beautiful and his barbarians and warriors more formidable. In short, Smith’s work went from being the Marvel “house style”, sometimes pushed by Stan Lee, to being a truly ground-breaking, awe-inspiring series of renderings which has influenced the character, the fans and the comics world to this day.

Those 24 issues of Conan The Barbarian have been reprinted more than once, and are highly recommended. Get them however you can.

Review by Mark Allen

(Click here to check out a Conan cover gallery. The first 24 covers bear witness to Smith's quick improvement as an artist.)