Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Four Color Conan

   I was reading back over my Savage Memories Posts from 2011 over the weekend, and I realized that in my enthusiasm for the Black and White magazine Savage Sword of Conan, that I had sort of overlooked the Marvel color Conan comic, without which, I wouldn’t have even cared about Savage Sword. So I thought I’d write a few posts about my discovery of Conan in the bright, four color pages.
   Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian #36 was cover dated March of 1974, but it actually hit the stands in December of 1973. Cover dates were a bit arcane back in the 1970s, what can I say? The reason I know this is because I received Conan #36 as a Christmas present, along with a bunch of other comics on that particular December.
   That was my first ever encounter with Robert E. Howard’s signature character, Conan of Cimmeria, and though that issue was not an adaptation of an actual Howard story, Roy Thomas’ and John Buscema’s version of the big barbarian captured my attention as few things had done before.
   I had started collecting comic books only the year before, and up until that Christmas I only collected DC Comics. You know, Superman, Batman, Flash, Justice League, etc. For some reason, I had the idea that Marvel comics were somehow inferior. Not sure where that came from. But hey, I was only ten. What did I know?
   However, my great aunt Eula, who was always my favorite aunt, had apparently noticed my interest in comic books, so she went down to the drug store in Canton Georgia and bought ten comics at Random. As it turned out, she chose eight Marvels and two DCs. I’d like to think that I hid my disappointment well, but I probably didn’t. In any event, I pulled the two DCs (an Action and a World’s Finest) from the shirt box in which the comics had been packed and put the rest aside. Marvel Comics. Bah!
   But I still had a long break from school during the Christmas holidays and at some point due to curiosity, boredom, or both, I dug out the box and gave the Marvels a read. It was love at first sight. To this day I can remember the covers and the titles. Captain America, Spiderman, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s Greatest Comics, (my first look at Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four) Marvel Team-Up, and Conan the Barbarian. I could probably write a post about where each of those comics led me, because they were all influential on my young mind, but this post is about Conan so we’ll stick with that.
   As I mentioned before, Conan #36 featured an original story by series writer Roy Thomas. The story was titled ‘Beware Hyerkranians Bearing Gifts’. The splash page shows Conan on horseback, pelting down the crowded streets of Aghrapur on his way to deliver a message to King Yildiz.
   I remember looking at this page and trying to figure out just what was the deal with this guy? What was a barbarian, anyway? He looked sort of like Tarzan, with his long black hair and loincloth, and I was already a big Tarzan fan thanks to my mother’s collection of Tarzan books and comics. Conan delivers his message and ends up being made part of Yildiz’s personal guards.
   His new position makes it necessary for Conan to learn the use of a bow, a weapon he originally considers unmanly. Two of Yildiz’s soldiers make fun of Conan’s lack of skill and he slams their heads together. Here, Roy Thomas quotes REH and I have never forgotten this quote.

   “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split as a general thing.”

   At this point I had already decided that this was a character I liked. What ten year old doesn’t wish he were the toughest guy around? Conan didn’t take crap off of anyone. He lived by his own rules and did what he wanted to do. And he had a sword and fought monsters.
   I’m sure the artwork had a lot to do with the appeal as well. John Buscema was at the top of his game at this point in his career and from what I’ve read in interviews, he was just as taken with Conan as I was. He absolutely loved drawing the character. Buscema’s Conan was huge and powerful, his women gorgeous, his settings exotic, and his visual story telling amazing. The guy could draw. I was already struggling to learn to draw back then and John Buscema became a huge influence on me.
   Anyway, the story finishes up with Conan battling a living statue to save King Yildiz and his solution to the problem is about as bloody as the comics code would allow in those days. I was hooked. I had to get more Conan comics right then and there. How did I go about that at age 10? More on that next time.

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