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Comic Book Legends Revealed #448

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COMIC LEGEND: Conan was not known as Conan the Barbarian before the Marvel series.

STATUS: True Enough for a True

COMIC LEGEND: Barry Windsor-Smith became the artist on Conan the Barbarian due to cost cutting on the book.


Here’s the first of the Fred Van Lente suggestions!

It is interesting, I think I’ve gone into Conan’s origins in my first book, Was Superman A Spy?, but never in this column.

Sort of famously, Roy Thomas was given $150 (per issue) to get the license to a “sword and sorcery” character for Marvel to make into a comic book. On his own volition, Thomas decided to up the ante to $200 and made the pitch to get Robert E. Howard’s Conan character rather than the character Stan Lee wanted him to try for, Lin Carter’s Thongor (Lee figured that it would be easier to get the less notable character, plus Thongor sure sounds like a Marvel character, doesn’t it?) and it worked.

Also sort of famously, Marvel’s publisher Martin Goodman decided to include the license fee as part of the production costs of the comic, so as a result, Marvel could not afford either of the two artists who most wanted to draw the Conan comic, John Buscema (their biggest artist at the time) and Gil Kane (not far from Buscema in stardom).

So Thomas had to instead find a much cheaper artist and he ended up going with young Barry Windsor-Smith, and obviously things worked out…


That’s all pretty much part of established comic book lore, but Fred mentioned something to me that had never really occurred to me before.

Nowadays, Conan IS “Conan the Barbarian.” That’s just part of his identity.


At the time, though, that was not the case. He was just “Conan.”

In fact, Robert E. Howard never actually referred to the character as “Conan the Barbarian” in ANY of the Conan short stories (he comes close, but never precisely “Conan the Barbarian”).

The only use of that title was in 1954, in the second volume of Gnome Press’ hardcover collections of Howard Conan stories (the first time Howard’s Conan stories had ever been collected).


By the time Thomas was planning on using Conan in comics, the Conan that everyone knew in fandom were the Lancer/Ace paperback editions, the ones that had Frazetta covers on a bunch of them.


Here were the titles of those books (up until the point when Thomas began adapting the character):

Conan (1968)
Conan the Adventurer (1966)
Conan the Warrior (1967)
Conan the Conqueror (AKA The Hour of the Dragon) (1967)
Conan the Usurper (1967)
Conan the Freebooter (1968)
Conan the Avenger (AKA The Return of Conan) (1968)
Conan the Wanderer (1968)
Conan of Cimmeria (1969)

So Thomas did not want this new series to be seen by the Conan people as being in direct competition with their books, so he specifically chose a title that they were not using and had not been used since the hardcover edition in 1954, Conan the Barbarian…

And the rest, as they say, is history.


Thanks to Roy Thomas for always being so informative about Conan’s comic book history.


Check out some classic Comic Book Legends Revealed related to Conan!

Did Stan Lee cancel Conan the Barbarian after just seven issues?

Did Robert E. Howard create Shuma Gorath?

What amusing note did Barry Windsor-Smith sneak into an early issue of Conan?

Was Red Sonja considered too close to Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonya for Marvel to own the character?

Did Roy Thomas use a pseudonym to retcon a Conan story arc while in the middle of the arc?

How did Roy Thomas “get back” at Neal Adams sneaking a monster that looked like female genitalia into a Conan story?

On the next page, the next Fred Van Lente suggestion – Was Barry Windsor-Smith’s Freebooters a re-working of his Archer and Armstrong series?

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Interestingly, Brian, after I suggested this to you, I was proofing the final issue of Ariel Olivetti and my adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “People of the Black Circle” and completely forgot about this line of dialogue from Howard’s original; Conan says: “Listen: I was born in the Cimmerian hills where the people are all barbarians.”

So though the character describes himself as such, it was the Marvel comic that popularized it as his “title.”

Right, Fred, that was exactly what I had in mind when I noted that Howard came pretty close to saying it without ever actually using the phrase “Conan the Barbarian.”

very cool legends today! Is there anything Valiant writers don’t know or can’t do? lol

I voted for BWS Archer & Armstrong on the best runs ever list.

So how exactly would Archer and Armstrong be more marketable? I don’t know either series.
I knew “Conan the Barbarian” wasn’t Howard’s term, but I never really connected the origin with the Marvel book, interesting.
Howard himself, of course, repackaged an unsold King Kull story to create Conan, which I imagine you cover in your book.
Read through the Monster pages at the link. More interesting, from the look of it, than the Mantlo story we did get.

Probably the biggest advantage Archer and Armstrong has is that it is set in present day. But in general, Archer and Armstrong is a bit toned down in approach and humor.

interesting to learn that stan lee himself did not want marvel going after conan. and that is where he also got the barbarian part. plus that superman returns got made so dc would not have to pay the estates any money in their quest to make sure they don’t share any of the profits with who they should be doing.

Unclean… unnnncllleeeaaaan….

one thing that hasn’t worked out? The horrible recoloring of BWS art in reprints

BWS is a great storyteller and he lays out his pages magnificently but I’ve always disliked the way he draws faces.

Did you ever cover the unauthorized Mexican Conan comic books La Reina de la Costa Negra? It shared a magazine with a similar ex officio adaptation of the Spider.

Thank you Brian Cronin..

Am I the only one who thought “Man of Steel” referred to the comic miniseries?

Excellent articles, Brian. Now this MoS is more than meets the eye.

Thank you, Aaron! I had totally forgotten that there was a nasty little movie called “Man of Steel” and I assumed that Brian was talking about the comic. It was only when I got to the end of the piece that I got confused and I realized, “Oh, he must have been referring to that movie that came out last summer! Come to think of it, that was also called ‘Man of Steel’!”

“so as a result, Marvel could not afford either of the two artists who most wanted to draw the Conan comic, John Buscema (their biggest artist at the time) and Gil Kane (not far from Buscema in stardom).”

Funny. You’d think that, if either Buscema or Kane had wanted to draw the comic badly enough, they would’ve accepted a lower page rate for a certain number of issues with a gradual increase to their normal rates if the series proved successful.

In the case of both guys, though, they weren’t working at Marvel because they liked working at Marvel, ya know? They worked there because Marvel paid them the most money. So I don’t think either guy was interested in risking any money on a work-for-hire gig (Kane obviously was willing to risk money on his own work, but not for work-for-hire stuff. It’s not like they would have gotten any royalties out of the book if it was a success. Their best case scenario was the same page rate that they were getting for drawing their regular books). Plus, if the book was successful, they knew that they would get a chance to work on it later on without giving up any money, which both guys did (although just one short story for Kane).


In an era where artists had to draw two books a month just to make a living, I highly doubt either Buscema or Kane would give up a better paying job for Conan.

Why do you keep doing this CBR. Every time you bring up MAN OF STEEL you know fanboys well go nuts in a negative way. WAIT for page views and comments? You’ve won this time CBR.

But no one went nuts in a negative way here, did they?

I always felt BWS’ style would have been better suited to doing adaptations of the work of Jack Vance or Lord Dunsany, had such existed in comics. I like his artwork but I never felt it was the Conan of the originals. Both Buscema and Kane, and now Giorello are closer IMO. I think not only would Buscema have not drawn Conan for less, but Marvel wouldn’t have allowed him to. I think Conan would have been a success earlier if he had, and his time on the book even more highly valued.

the first was published Conan in comic books was in a mexican edition in 1950. http://www.lacovacha.net/2013/11/clasicos-conan.html

In a way, in my opinion it worked out for the best regarding Buscema (in the case of Kane, I would have loved to see a lot mor of his Conan!) If hehad started working on Conan The Barbarian right off the bat, he probably would have been assigned a regular Marvel inker and his work would have looke like other stuff he was doing around that time. The fact that he was later put in the B&W Conan magazines, with iconoclastic inkers such as Alfredo Alcalá, resulted in pretty unique and fantastic work for Buscema. Plus, BWS had the chance to hone up his skilss, and by the end was producing work as amazong as his adaptation of Red Nails! Everybady wins! (Well, except Gil Kane)

In the case of Kane, I doubt he could have accepted a lower page rate if he wanted to. I’m not sure of the actual timeframe; but, I read once in an interview that part of the reason he churned out so many covers for Marvel in the early 70s was because of his divorce and that he needed to generate income. He was cranking stuff out then. Like I say, I don’t know if that was during the launch of Conan or after. Kane also said he had lobbied for Marvel to make a pitch for Conan before Roy Thomas secured the rights (this was a Comics Journal interview, early 90s).

I got to meet Kane once, at a Heroes Con, in Charlotte, NC. Nice guy. I got him to sign a cover that he did for THUNDER Agents. He said he hadn’t seen one in years, which made it even cooler. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one where he had done an interior story (he checked), though I had those issues at home (I found the particular issue at the con). I really wish I could have talked to him longer, but them’s the breaks.

Archer and Armstrong; for my money, the best book Valiant published. At first, I was a little blasé about it; but it kept getting better and better with each issue. I think my favorite is the riff where Armstrong and his two brothers are Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers and Archer is D’Artagnan. That was fun!

Everybady wins! (Well, except Gil Kane)

Sort of sounds like Gil Kane’s whole career in a nutshell right there. Of all the top comic book superstar artists, he probably had the worst lot of them all from a financial standpoint.

The thing that impresses me most about Buscema’s Conan work was that he would take Howard’s often bland descriptions of monsters (for some reason, REH loved to label his demonic horrors “toadlike”) and come up with something genuinely monstrous.

Brian… you mentioned Man of Steel… I am going SO nuts, right now. I am not likely to be contained. I mean it. NUTS. Nuts like you’ve never seen. I’m going it. Now. I’m clicking refresh like a madman, to give you more page views. And you KNOW I can comment. I’m doing it. Stand back. Nuts.

hmmmm…tied to the first one is the question of how many of the changes to Superman (his Man of Steel suit, origin changes, his whole New 52…everything, really) is tied into not making it too much like what the S&S estates might have had rights to in creating Superman. There was a lot of talk they were making the changes in case the lawsuit went South. I think Superboy was involved too. Did DC change Superman and his history to make sure they had rights to some portion of the character?

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