Friday, October 05, 2007

Conan the Phenomenon


Dark Horse Comics, the publishers of the the current Conan comic book, have put out a big hardcover that covers the history of Robert E. Howard's barbarian hero. It's a very thorough retrospective with a lot of nifty artwork. It covers the pulps, the Arkham House anthologies, the Gnome Hardbacks, the Lancer paperbacks, the Marvel Comics, the movies, the Tor Pastiches, and leads right up to the current comic book series. This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to know about the history of the character.
That said, my one complaint about the book is that there's nothing new here. I didn't learn one thing that I didn't already know. Large chunks of the book, in fact, are lifted from other books I already own such as L. Sprague Decamp's Dark Valley Destiny. Not that the author, Paul Sammon, is stealing. He scrupulously identifies his sources. It's just that the book reads rather like a big term paper, where someone has pulled together a lot of articles and interviews from other sources and written just enough new material to patch it all together. Of course, there probably isn't much I don't know about Conan after all these years, so I guess I'm asking a lot in hoping for new insights. Anyway, it's nice to have all that information in one place, and I certainly recommend the book to anyone who doesn't already know the publishing history of everyone's favorite barbarian.
One thing that did make me happy was that Sammon was very respectful of the contributions of L. Sprague Decamp and Lin Carter. These two writers have taken a lot of undeserved shots over the years from a lot of uninformed people. Nice to see someone give them their due.
Oh and there's a very keen introduction by Michael Moorcock, who talks about the influence that Robert E. Howard and Conan had on his own work. So I guess I did learn a couple of new things. Just not about Conan.

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