Comic Book Legends Revealed #448
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 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!
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?