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Conan the Barbarian has long past in pulps, comics

by Matthew Price Published: August 19, 2011

On the hot plains of Texas, in the wildcatting town of Cross Plains, a barbarian was born who has now lived in our imaginations for nearly 80 years.

Robert E. Howard, the author and creator of “Conan,” launched the character in the 1932 issue of the pulp magazine “Weird Tales.” Howard was born in Peaster, Texas, in 1906 and lived in Texas and western Oklahoma as a youth before settling in Cross Plains, Texas, in 1919.

The Cimmerian barbarian is returning to movie theaters today, in the new “Conan the Barbarian” film starring Jason Momoa. Through the years, Conan has been featured in books, comics, movies and television. The 1982 “Conan the Barbarian” movie helped launch Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom.

Howard also created the Atlantean King Kull, Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane and the Pict warrior Bran Mak Morn. Howard is often credited with creating the “sword and sorcery,” or epic fantasy, genre.

Howard’s life, and the Conan’s path to literary immortality, are recounted in a 2007 book from Dark Horse Books, “Conan the Phenomenon,” by Paul M. Sammon.

Sammon covers the early days of the pulps, the reprints and revivals of the 1960s, the successful Marvel Comics of the 1970s, the films of the 1980s, the legal wrangling of the 1990s, and the return to publishing in the 2000s.

Dark Horse Comics, the current licensors of Conan in comic books, continue new stories of the barbarian, along with reprints of the material from the 1970s and 1980s.

Writer Kurt Busiek and artist Cary Nord were the team chosen to relaunch Conan in November of 2003, with a 25-cent issue number zero reintroducing the character to modern comic-book audiences. The 25-cent price tag was the same price as the first appearance of Conan in “Weird Tales.”

Busiek said in a news release in 2003 how excited he was to revive the character, calling “Conan” “a dream assignment.

“It’s got everything — a great lead character, exciting adventures, a vast historical sweep, a fascinating world that involves everything from war to thievery to piracy, from high seas adventure to desert banditry, from sorcery to romance to all-out action and back again.”

The zero issue, called “Conan the Legend,” won the 2004 Eisner Award for best single issue. Busiek wrote the title from 2003-2006, and his stories are collected in five volumes from Dark Horse, numbered zero through four. Tim Truman followed Busiek as writer of “Conan,” and wrote the entire second ongoing “Conan” series from Dark Horse, “Conan the Cimmerian.” Truman’s comics have been collected in six volumes from Dark Horse.

Roy Thomas, who wrote many of the Marvel Comics adaptations of “Conan,” has returned to the character for the current series, “Road of Kings.”

Dark Horse also continues its reprint line; two hardcover archives featuring the stories of Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith were released in 2010. Twenty-one softcover volumes of the “Chronicles of Conan,” reprinting Marvel Comics “Conan” series, have been released, as have nine volumes of the black-and-white “Savage Sword of Conan,” reprinting Marvel’s magazine series featuring the barbarian. A tenth volume is set for September release.

Dark Horse has adapted the new film in the trade paperback “Conan: The Mask of Acheron,” which is on sale now.

More information can be found at www.conan.com and www.darkhorse.com/Zones/Conan.

- By Matthew Price
WORD BALLOONS
From Friday’s The Oklahoman

by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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