Undervalued Spotlight #57

Conan the Barbarian #1, Marvel Comics, October 1970

Conan the Barbarian was an important comic book in many ways. Some argue the book ushered in the Bronze Age while others look to Marvel’s first major licensing effort (actually only $200 per issue according to an article in this year’s Overstreet, pg. 1042 Stan) as an important stepping stone that led to other licensing successes for Marvel including Star Wars.

Conan’s first issue was beautifully drawn by Barry Windsor Smith while Roy Thomas wrote the adaptation to comics from Robert E. Howard’s original stories.

Conan was an instant success. The flagship title Conan the Barbarian lasted 275 issues and it spawned many other Conan titles, most notably the Savage Sword of Conan magazine which itself lasted 225 issues. The Savage Sword magazine’s more graphic and mature content probably did more to propel the character than the comic title did. Of course without the comic’s success there would have been no magazine, so there!

It is important to note that it was Conan #1 the comic book that really got the ball rolling. The original pulps of the 30s, the Gnome Press books of the 50s and the Lancer and Ace books of the 60s all earned cult followings but none of these was able to thrust Conan into mainstream pop culture.

The Conan character also helped define some very prominent pop culture icons including Frank Fazetta (whose Conan covers for 1960s Lancer Books and Ace Books paperbacks are the stuff of legend) and Arnold Schwarzenegger who became a Hollywood star playing the Cimmerian.

What will make Conan #1 always important though are the Robert E. Howard stories themselves. Howard’s Conan stories are strong, tense and very well written, they are not as widely read as they should be.

The 40th edition of the Overstreet Price Guide shows $148/$287/$425 as the splits at the 8.0/9.0/9.2 grades.

Strengths that make this comic book a good long term investment are:

  • Conan #1 is a Bronze Age Marvel Key
  • Robert E. Howards Conan stories are literary works and will anchor the character forever
  • Conan was iconic artist Frank Frazetta’s defining work
  • The 1982 Conan movie made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star (I see infinity…)
  • New Conan movie in production as of this post
Walter Durajlija Written by:

Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.

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Be First to Comment

  1. Frank Chang
    October 7, 2010

    Agreed but the book is flooded. There are plenty of copies of #1 to meet the demand.

  2. ComicBookDaily
    October 7, 2010

    Lots of books are flooded these days. There are deals to be had with this book right now. I think it’s a solid long term investment near guide in the higher grades.

    Walt

  3. October 9, 2010

    “The original pulps of the 30s, the Gnome Press books of the 50s and the Lancer and Ace books of the 60s all earned cult followings but none of these was able to thrust Conan into mainstream pop culture.”

    The Lancer and Aces were phenomenally popular. They sold in their millions, the Frazetta covers are still considered to be the iconic Conan (not least by Barry Smith and John Buscema), and to this day are considered to be the beginning of the first Conan boom. They’re likely the reason Marvel showed interest in the character to begin with.

    I agree that the Conan comics certainly boosted Conan’s presence in the mainstream popular consciousness, but the Lancers were quite a bit more than having a “cult following.”

    “What will make Conan #1 always important though are the Robert E. Howard stories themselves. Howard’s Conan stories are strong, tense and very well written, they are not as widely read as they should be.”

    Conan #1 wasn’t a Howard story, though, it was an original tale by Roy Thomas.

    That said, a really good post, and I agree with all the other sentiments therein!

  4. ComicBookDaily
    October 9, 2010

    Thanks for the comments Al Harron

    You are correct, millions sold equals much more than a cult following. What the books could not deliver though was new Conan material several times a month for two decades (even if retold, adapted or newly created). Also, the comics and magazines helped grow a new legion of Conan fans simply by being easy to consume. Many young readers got their first taste of Conan through the Marvel products and then later graduated to the novels (that’s how it happened for me).

    It might be just me but the Barry Smith Conan, the Conan illustrations from the 1930s pulps and the 1950’s books just don’t cut it. Frank Frazetta’s Conan and Robert E. Howard’s Conan are one in the same, ferocious, raw and untameable. Artists like Joe Jusko, Boris Vallejo, John Buscema and Cary Nord use the Frazetta template.

Make It Good.