Comic Book Legends Revealed #422
COMIC LEGEND: Stan Lee canceled Conan the Barbarian after just seven issues.
In 1970, Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith (with inks by the late, great Dan Adkins) debuted their adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s classic adventurer, Conan the Barbarian.
The first issue was a major sensation. It sold very well and Barry Windsor-Smith had clearly established himself as a superstar artist.
Everyone naturally was really pumped about the series, especially its writer, Roy Thomas.
Then a funny thing happened. Despite the book continuing to be a high quality affairs, the sales dropped steadily for each of the next SIX issues!
The book was quickly turned into a monthly book soon after it debuted (as it debuted so strong) but after the sales reports came in for Conan #7 (which would be about the time that issue #13 was being produced), Stan Lee (who was then still “just” the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel. Martin Goodman was still around as the Publisher) had made a decision. It was not just that Conan had poor sales, but it was also that Lee saw that Smith was clearly a major star, so Lee wanted to get Smith on to superhero titles. So Lee canceled Conan.
Roy Thomas, of course, was not in the office when this happened. He was at home doing some writing (Thomas would split his weeks between his home and the Marvel office). When Thomas showed up the next day, he naturally hit the roof. He argued vociferously for the book. If Lee wanted to pull Smith from the book, then fine, do that, but then just give the book another artist, don’t cancel it!
Eventually, Thomas won Lee over and Conan was un-canceled, although it was sent back to bi-monthly status with Conan #14.
By the time Conan had hit #20, the book was already back to monthly status and was only heading upwards in sales. It soon became one of Marvel’s biggest hits of the 1970s (and it remained monthly until the book finished at Marvel in the 1990s).
And it all could have been over with before a year’s worth of stories had even saw print!
Thanks to Roy Thomas for detailing the story in his excellent series of afterwords in the Dark Horse reprints of the Marvel Conan series, The Chronicles of Conan (Volume 3, to be precise). Besides Dark Horse’s excellent quality production values in the reprints, these books are almost worth purchasing just for the insights Thomas shares in the afterwords. Like the legend on the next page…