Conan the Barbarian (comics)

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Conan the Barbarian
The cover to Conan the Barbarian #1 (October 1970), by Barry Smith and John Verpoorten.
Publication information
Publisher Marvel Comics
Schedule Monthly
Format Ongoing series
Genre
Publication date October 1970 – December 1993
Number of issues 275 and 12 Annuals
Main character(s) Conan
Creative team
Writer(s) Roy Thomas, et al.
Penciller(s) Barry Smith, John Buscema, et al.
Editor(s) Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, et al.

Conan the Barbarian was a Marvel Comics title starring the sword-and-sorcery character created by Robert E. Howard. It debuted with a first issue cover-dated October 1970 and ran for 275 issues until 1993. A significant commercial success, the title launched a sword-and-sorcery vogue in 1970s comics.

Publication history[edit]

Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian ran 275 issues (cover dated October 1970 - December 1993).[1] The book was noted for having a single writer, Roy Thomas, from issues #1-115 (October 1970 - October 1980) and then #240-275 (January 1991 - December 1993).[2] It is also noted for being the signature work of artist Barry Smith, an industry star,[3] who pencilled most issues between #1 and #24; and for the years-long run of artist John Buscema, who pencilled the vast bulk of issues #25-190. Interim writers included J.M. DeMatteis, Bruce Jones, Michael Fleisher, Doug Moench, Jim Owsley, Alan Zelenetz, Chuck Dixon, and Don Kraar.

Thomas, Marvel's associate editor at the time, had obtained the licensed property from the estate of its creator, Robert E. Howard, after finding Conan chief among readers' requests for literary properties to be adapted to comics, which also included the pulp magazine character Doc Savage, the Lord of the Rings oeuvre of writer J. R. R. Tolkien, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' characters Tarzan and John Carter of Mars.[4] Elaborating in 2010, he said,

I put together a memo for publisher Martin Goodman saying why we should [license a character]. ... I hadn't read a lot of Howard, I bought a couple of the books for the Frazetta covers but I'd never really read them. When Goodman gave us permission to license a character, we figured we couldn't afford Conan..... By that time, there'd been about half-a-decade of Conan coming out in Lancer paperbacks, so we figured no sense going after that, there was no way we were going to get it. I knew Lin Carter slightly, who had authored a character called Thongor, who was half Conan and half John Carter of Mars.... Lin was great, but his agent kept wanting us to offer more money than the $150 per issue that Martin Goodman had magnanimously said we could pay for rights.[4]

Thomas said another reason for pursuing Thongor was that Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee "liked that name the most. . . . I soon got stalled by Lin Carter's agent on Thongor . . . and I got a sudden impulse to go after Conan. Later, following on the success of the Conan series, Lin Carter allowed Marvel to publish a Thongor comic, which appeared as a miniseries in Creatures on the Loose."[5]

After reading and enjoying the paperback Conan of Cimmeria, Thomas contacted Glen Lord, literary agent for the Howard estate, and "I said we can't offer much money but it might increase Conan's audience and so forth, what do you think? I didn't have much elasticity, but I was so embarrassed by the $150 that I upped it to $200 without thinking. So that when Glen agreed ... I decided I'd have to write the first issue or so, so that if Goodman objected I could knock a couple pages off my rate to even things out."[4]

The extra cost meant, however, that Marvel could not budget for Buscema, Thomas' first choice, serendipitously opening the door to Smith. Buscema, in a 1994 interview, recalled,

I was approached by Roy Thomas with the project to do Conan. He mailed a couple of the paperbacks to me and I read 'em and I loved 'em. I told Roy, 'This is what I want, something that I can really sink my teeth into. . . .' [A]t the time, Marvel was owned by Martin Goodman, and he felt that my rate was too high to take a gamble [with] on some new kind of [project]. It wasn't a superhero or anything that had been done before. The closest thing to that would be Tarzan. Anyway, he had no confidence in spending too much money on the book, and that's where Barry Smith came in — [he was] very cheap. I know what he got paid, and I'd be embarrassed to tell you how much it was, because I'd be embarrassed for Marvel.[6]

Comics historian Les Daniels noted that "Conan the Barbarian was something of a gamble for Marvel. The series contained the usual elements of action and fantasy, to be sure, but it was set in a past that had no relation to the Marvel Universe, and it featured a hero who possessed no magical powers, little humor and comparatively few moral principles."[7]

Marvel initially published Conan every two months. After sales of #1 were strong Marvel quickly made the title monthly, but sales dropped with each additional issue. Lee decided to cancel the comic with #7, not only because of the weak sales but to use Smith on more popular comics. Thomas argued against the decision and Lee relented, although the book became bimonthly again in #14. By #20 Conan again became monthly because of rising sales, and the comic became one of Marvel's most popular in the 1970s.[8]

Elric of Melniboné first appeared in comics in Conan the Barbarian issues #14–15 (March–May 1972). The comics were written by Thomas and illustrated by Windsor-Smith, based on a story plotted by Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorn.[9][10] Red Sonja was introduced in issue #23 (February 1973).[11]

In 2010, Comics Bulletin ranked Thomas' work on Conan the Barbarian with Smith and Buscema seventh on its list of the "Top 10 1970s Marvels".[12]

Annuals and Giant-Size series[edit]

Twelve issues of Conan Annual were published from 1973 to 1987.[13] Giant-Size Conan was a series of 68 page giants which ran for five issues from September 1974 to 1975.[14]

Awards[edit]

Academy of Comic Book Arts Shazam Awards[15]

1970

  • Best New Talent: Barry Smith

1971

  • Best Continuing Feature: Conan the Barbarian
  • Best Writer (Dramatic): Roy Thomas

1973

  • Best Individual Story (Dramatic): Song of Red Sonja from Conan the Barbarian #24 by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith

1974

  • Best Continuing Feature: Conan the Barbarian
  • Best Penciller (Dramatic): John Buscema
  • Superior Achievement by an Individual: Roy Thomas

Collected editions[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Conan the Barbarian at the Grand Comics Database
  2. ^ Roy Thomas' credits on Conan the Barbarian at the Grand Comics Database
  3. ^ Sanderson, Peter; Gilbert, Laura, ed. (2008). "1970s". Marvel Chronicle A Year by Year History. Dorling Kindersley. p. 146. ISBN 978-0756641238. Writer Roy Thomas and British artist Barry Smith (later known as Barry Windsor-Smith) launched Marvel's sword-and-sorcery comics with Conan the Barbarian, in a series that ran for 275 issues. 
  4. ^ a b c Manning, Shaun (April 17, 2010). "C2E2: Roy Thomas Reunites with Conan". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on April 20, 2010. Retrieved July 24, 2012. 
  5. ^ Thomas, Roy, interview (July 2007). "Writing Comics Turned Out to Be What I Really Wanted to Do with My Life". Alter Ego (Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing) 3 (70): 5–6. 
  6. ^ Comic World (UK) #37, March 1995, reprinted in Comic Book Artist #21. August 2002, p.31b. Interview conducted October 2, 1994.
  7. ^ Daniels, Les (1991). Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics. Harry N. Abrams. p. 148. ISBN 9780810938212. 
  8. ^ Cronin, Brian (June 7, 2013). "Comic Book Legends Revealed #422". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on August 21, 2014. 
  9. ^ Thomas, Roy; Moorcock, Michael; Cawthorn, James (w), Windsor-Smith, Barry (p), Buscema, Sal (i). "A Sword Called Stormbringer!" Conan the Barbarian 14 (March 1972)
  10. ^ Thomas, Roy; Moorcock, Michael; Cawthorn, James (w), Windsor-Smith, Barry (p), Buscema, Sal (i). "The Green Empress of Melniboné" Conan the Barbarian 15 (May 1972)
  11. ^ Daniels p. 150: "One especially felicitous extrapolation was Red Sonja, a minor Howard character transformed by Thomas into a companion for Conan."
  12. ^ Sacks, Jason (September 6, 2010). "Top 10 1970s Marvels". Comics Bulletin. Archived from the original on August 3, 2013. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  13. ^ Conan Annual at the Grand Comics Database
  14. ^ Giant-Size Conan at the Grand Comics Database
  15. ^ Thompson, Don. A Decade of Comics Fan Awards, 1961-1970 (D. & M. Thompson: Mentor, Ohio, 1971, 16PP)

External links[edit]