Buscema Conan Pinup
Credit: http://www.marvelscustoms.com/doom/albums/John_Buscema/john_buscema_5.jpg

The earliest memory I have of cracking open a comic book is the image of black blood.  It may be strange to some of you, but many like myself who grew up in the 80s were quite familiar with this phenomenon as it was the way that comic book publishers like Marvel and DC had to depict the usage of blood and gore imagery during that time as dictated by the CCA (Comics Code Authority).  The flashes of arcane rituals, stoic warriors, and misanthropic monsters captured my imagination at a young age and my continued enthusiasm for the "Sword and Sorcery" genre is still fueled in large part to a towering, wild-maned, Cimmerian with iron thews and an indomnitable will to match.


Conan the Barbarian by Barry Smith
Credit: http://home.earthlink.net/~copaceticom1/conan.jpg

I can't recall how old I was, but I was certainly too young to buy my own comic books.  Luckily, my father was an avid collector as well as a pretty good comic artist in his own right, and Conan was one of his favorites.  Although, he wasn't as much a fan of the rendition that I grew up with since his Conan was the one portrayed by the incomparable art of Barry Windsor Smith who springboarded his career on the northslander's broad, sinewy back.  Barry mainly worked on the first 24 issues of the series, but the groundbreaking leaps he made in refining the character as well as his distinctive style in that short time was all it took to make him a star in Marvel and launched a storied career that most artists still envy to this day.  

Conan the Barbarian by John Buscema
Credit: http://www.stripovi.com/images/conan.jpg

One can see how greatly the character changed over the years and I can understand why my father had a slight distaste for the hulking brute that Conan had become under the hand of John Buscema.  While always a powerful combatant with panther-like reflexes, Conan had started off with a more lithe and athletic build that denoted someone who could move swiftly with all the agility he possessed from a harsh childhood in the frigid mountains of the north.  For the majority of the series, Buscema's more beefy Cimmerian still had unparalleled speed and reflexes, but he depended heavily on sheer might of strength to overcome the majority of obstacles in his way.  With a "good swordarm" this giant among men was able to topple vast armies and powerful kingdoms.  

Conan the Barbarian #34
Credit: http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/scale_large/0/4/12462-2471-13983-1-conan-the-barbarian.jpg

I'm sure that I was far too young to be reading these sagas of a reaver who fought demons, terrorized the Black Coast, and generally wandered anywhere there was a brewing war, comely wenches, and gold for the taking, but I was immediately caught up in the exotic flavor of the Hyborian Age.  These adventures took place in a far flung era after King Kull ruled Atlantis, yet several millenia before any of todays religions were born.  I was powerless against these tales and still am. 

While much of the impact of the stories was conveyed by the artwork, a big portion of credit had to go to the writers involved.  For many years, I labored under the idea that all of the Marvel comics tales were simply adaptations of the original works of Robert E. Howard.  This was true to begin with (and often throughout the series), but there was also a lot of fresh material woven in by talented authors.  There had been several over the two-decade run, but none were as prominent in the title as Roy Thomas.  This man was at the helm of the series for over half of the 275 issues cementing his place in a legacy that still brings joy to readers around the world.  

As a lyrical bard strumming a lyre amid a bonfire of bones casting shadows upon a blood-soaked battlefield, I'm sure I could sing praises of his feats for days, but you would be far more entertained by seeking out this comic and losing yourself in it's pages as I intend to do yet again.