Last November, on a whim, I picked up what I thought would be a fun walk down Conan Memory Lane, but that turned out to be a disappointing stroll down I Must Have Missed Something Boulevard. After a few months and a few memory nudges courtesy of a lot of people on the internet, I realized my error. My nostalgia was the result of some crossed wires. I bought issues of Marvel’s subpar King Conan from 1983s instead of the superior Savage Sword of Conan from 1975. (There’s that 1980 dividing line again.)
The local comic shop has a box of old issues going for anywhere from one to five bucks, and I picked a coverless dollar issue. I didn’t want to get burned again. I didn’t get burned, I got a warm glow thumbing through this black and white comic that is almost as old as me. It even smells like my childhood.
In addition to three Conan stories, we get two ‘historical’ treatises. These are sort of non-fiction works about Hyboria, one dealing with the gods and one dealing with the rise of Hyboria itself. These are nice little background documents that help bring the setting to life. There’s also one non-Conan sword and sorcery tale about a barbarian less clever than Conan being led into the mouth of danger by a bewitching young thing who has a devil of time keeping her clothes on. It’s told with a slight tongue in cheek attitude and features the safe sort of titillation that pushes the boundaries while maintaining a solid PG feel that Marvel used to excel at, long long ago.
The splash pages make a big splash, even when they feature nothing more than a static building and a passing Stygian ship. Tell me that illustration isn’t begging to be dropped into your next D&D campaign. I know the Appendix N books get all the love, but exposure to this sort of multi-media illustration of the world of Hyboria reaps exponential rewards for creative types to steal from for their own purposes.
Jess Jodloman provides amazing series of full page illustrations in this illustrated version of The Death Song of Conan the Cimmerian, which was written by none other than Lin Carter. His narratives always felt like pale imitations of the real Howardian deal to me, but this poem combined with Jodloman’s illustrations brings the heat.
Yeah, these are pastiches, but they hew closer to the Howardian ideal than most of Howard’s torchbearers, including the modern comic iterations. And the art is fantastic! Look at this epic scene of Conan leading steppe warriors into battle:
So the death of Conan is left as an allegory, but look at the barbarian raging against death, fighting even unto the last. That’s good stuff.
I gotta get back to that store and pick up a few more of these.