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The Savage Success of Conan 

by Lo Terry on July 1, 2024
  • Blood-soaked sands. Snarling beasts. The clash of steel on steel. 

    From the mist-shrouded depths of literary history emerges a figure hewn from pure primal fury: Conan the Cimmerian. For decades, this indomitable barbarian has stalked the edges of our collective imagination, a specter of unbridled power. 

    But what forces breathed life into this colossus of sword and sorcery? What arcane alchemy transformed pulp fantasy into enduring legend? 

    Gird your loins, steel your nerves, and follow us into the shadowy realm where myth and modernity collide. Here, amidst the bones of fallen empires and the whispers of forgotten gods, we’ll unearth the savage roots of an icon and trace his blood-drenched footsteps across the canvas of pop culture. 

    A 40-Year Overnight Sensation

    Conan The Barbarian The Savage Success of Conan 

    The barbaric allure of Conan stretches far beyond the sun-baked plains of Cimmeria, rooted deeply in the fertile soil of mythology and adventure fiction. Like a colossal tree, Conan’s literary lineage draws nourishment from diverse sources – the epic sagas of Norse mythology, the swashbuckling tales of historical fiction, and the gritty realism of pulp adventure stories. This rich well of influences breathed life into a character that would transcend his pulp origins to become an icon of fantasy literature.

    Howard’s genius lay in his ability to synthesize these disparate elements into a cohesive and compelling whole. The brute strength of Conan echoes the mighty deeds of mythological heroes like Thor or Hercules, while his cunning and resourcefulness evoke comparisons to historical figures like Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great. Yet, Conan is no simple pastiche – he emerged from Howard’s imagination as a fully-realized character, imbued with a fierce vitality that set him apart from his literary forebears.

    But Conan’s appeal extends beyond his mythic qualities. Born in the crucible of the Great Depression, this Cimmerian warrior tapped into the zeitgeist of 1930s America with uncanny precision. In an era when trust in established institutions had eroded to dust, Conan stood as a paragon of self-reliance and individual strength. His journey from thief and pirate to the throne of Aquilonia resonated deeply with a populace grappling with economic uncertainty and social upheaval.

    Moreover, Conan embodied a particular brand of masculinity that spoke to the anxieties of the time. In a world where traditional notions of manhood were being challenged by changing social norms and economic realities, Conan represented an idealized vision of raw, untamed masculinity. His physical prowess, sheer will, and unapologetic pursuit of his desires offered a fantasy of empowerment to readers struggling with feelings of impotence in the face of societal pressures.

    Yet, it would be a mistake to dismiss Conan as a weak man’s power fantasy. Howard imbued his creation with surprising depth, often using Conan as a lens through which to explore complex themes of civilization versus barbarism, the corrupting influence of power, and the cyclical nature of history. This philosophical underpinning, combined with Howard’s visceral prose and knack for pulse-pounding action, elevated Conan above the realm of simple escapism.

    As the decades rolled on, Conan’s popularity showed no signs of waning. If anything, the Cimmerian’s appeal seemed to grow stronger with each passing year. But it was in the 1970s that Conan would truly come into his own as a cultural phenomenon, thanks to a groundbreaking comic series that would redefine the character for a new generation of fans.

    What’s Black and White and Read All Over?

    In the sweltering summer of 1974, a seismic shift rocked the comic book landscape. From the primordial ooze of pulp fiction emerged “The Savage Sword of Conan,” a black-and-white magazine that would redefine graphic storytelling. 

    Unfettered by the shackles of the Comics Code Authority, “Savage Sword” reveled in its newfound freedom. Blood flowed freely across its pages, unrestrained violence erupted in kinetic panels, and even the occasional flash of nudity graced its adult-oriented content. This was Conan as Robert E. Howard had truly envisioned him – raw, untamed, and unapologetically visceral.

    But the original run of “Savage Sword” was so much more than just a miasma of sex and violence. Its black-and-white format allowed artists to flex their creative muscles in ways previously unseen. Intricate cross-hatching, lush gray washes, and bold use of negative space transformed each page into a work of art. The likes of John Buscema, Alfredo Alcala, and Tony de Zuniga breathed life into Howard’s Hyborian Age with a level of detail and atmosphere that color simply couldn’t match.

    The magazine’s larger format also served as a canvas for these artistic titans, allowing for sprawling vistas and intricate battle scenes that immersed readers in Conan’s world like never before. And crowning each issue were the breathtaking painted covers – lurid masterpieces by artists like Boris Vallejo, Earl Norem, and Bob Larkin that elevated “Savage Sword” from periodicals to coveted collector’s item.

    As the years rolled on and other black-and-white magazines fell by the wayside, “Savage Sword of Conan” stood resolute, like its namesake hero facing down a horde of Picts. Long after Marvel’s other mature-readers titles had faded into obscurity, Conan’s adventures continued to captivate audiences month after month, year after year. Even into the 1990s, when the very concept of a black-and-white magazine seemed like a relic of a bygone era, “Savage Sword” soldiered on, buoyed by a devoted fanbase that couldn’t get enough of the Cimmerian’s exploits.

    This enduring popularity spoke to something fundamental about “Savage Sword of Conan.” It wasn’t just nostalgia or inertia keeping the title alive; it was the perfect alchemy of compelling storytelling, unparalleled artistry, and a format that allowed both to shine. In an industry often driven by fleeting trends and gimmicks, “Savage Sword” remained true to its pulp roots, offering readers an authentic, undiluted dose of sword-and-sorcery action with every issue.

    As the new millennium dawned and comic book tastes evolved, whispers began to circulate through the halls of fandom. Could the spirit of “Savage Sword” be rekindled for a new generation? The answer, it seemed, lay not in reinvention, but in a triumphant return to form – a revival that would honor the legacy of the original while charting a bold new course for the future of Conan comics.

    The Savage Return of Conan

    Conan The Barbarian The Savage Success of Conan 

    The clarion call of Crom has sounded once more, heralding the triumphant return of “Savage Sword of Conan” to the hallowed halls of comic shops and the eager hands of fans both old and new. 

    In an era of endless reboots and hollow retreads, the architects behind this new incarnation of “Savage Sword” have taken a different path. They’ve eschewed the temptation to simply slap a familiar name on a modern comic, instead embracing the unique format that set the original apart. The black-and-white magazine aesthetic returns in all its glory, a defiant throwback to an age when comics dared to be different. This isn’t just a comic book; it’s a time machine, transporting readers back to the golden age of sword-and-sorcery storytelling.

    But the new “Savage Sword” isn’t aiming to be a master in mimicry, either. This new iteration brings a stunning approach to its creative teams, assembling a rotating cast of artistic visionaries to breathe fresh life into the Hyborian Age. Each issue promises a self-contained epic, a one-and-done adventure crafted by a different set of hands. 

    The parade of creators lining up to contribute reads like a who’s who of comic book royalty, each bringing their unique style and perspective to the Cimmerian’s saga. It’s a tantalizing prospect for readers, offering the chance to see Conan through a kaleidoscope of artistic lenses, each issue a surprise and a delight.

    And what of the tales these masters will spin? The upcoming stories tease adventures that push the boundaries of even Conan’s legendary exploits. Picture our barbarian hero locked in mortal combat with a pack of savage werewolves, his mighty thews straining against fur and fang in a primal battle for survival. It’s just a taste of the epic storytelling that awaits, promising readers a visceral thrill with every turn of the page.

    The response to this bold revival has been nothing short of thunderous. Sales figures have soared like a Cimmerian war cry, and the chorus of critical acclaim grows louder with each passing issue. Fans have embraced this new “Savage Sword” with open arms, recognizing in its pages the same raw energy and untamed spirit that made them fall in love with Conan in the first place.

    This resounding success is a testament to the enduring power of Conan himself. In a world of caped crusaders and spandex-clad superheroes, the Cimmerian barbarian stands apart, a timeless icon of primal strength and indomitable will. His adventures speak to something fundamental in the human spirit, a yearning for freedom and self-reliance that resonates across generations.

    As the sun rises on this new era of Savage Sword of Conan comics, the future has never looked brighter for fans of sword-and-sorcery action. Whether you’re a grizzled veteran of the Hyborian Age or a wide-eyed newcomer eager to experience the thrill of adventure, now is the perfect time to heed the call of Crom and join the ranks of Conan’s devoted followers.

  • Lo Terry

    In his effort to help Heroic Signatures tell legendary stories, Lo Terry does a lot. Sometimes, that means spearheading an innovative, AI-driven tavern adventure. In others it means writing words in the voice of a mischievous merchant for people to chuckle at. It's a fun time.

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