The Savage Sword of Conan
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Before jumping into this essay’s topic, let me throw out this anecdote. Yes, it is a piece of droll humor. The Savage Sword of Conan (henceforth SSOC) came to my attention at the beginning of the Fall semester of 1979 while an undergrad. (At the time, I was a weightlifter and a beer drinker and a voracious reader. (The only thing lacking in my life then was a girlfriend.) We also had a house cat, a domestic short hair with tortoise-shell belly, that had quite a personality for a cat. She was very rare indeed in her personality and behavior. Perhaps a topic for a future essay.) That summer, some fellow students and myself were suffering through a college calculus class. We were “toughing it out” every week day morning for several weeks so that we would not have to put up with it for an entire semester!
After finishing the midterm exam, one humid, sunny summer morning, upon leaving the classroom a fellow student asked me about the major exam question (math problem). He said: “Was your answer rational?” My reply (which caught him by surprise) was: “No, it was not rational. It was a repeating decimal.” Which in fact was true! The answer was a repeating decimal, which is also known as an irrational number. What the fellow comrade student had meant though was did I obtain an answer to that most difficult problem that made any sense. The answer to that was also “no” as not much in that class ever did make any sense to me. (Oddly enough, when the graded exams were handed back to us a few days later, it turned out that I was among the few in the class that had gotten the correct answer to that killer problem.)
While we continue our research and editing (“word smithing”) for a very important, and potentially incendiary, essay (hopefully to be ready for the presses early next week), let us go off in a different direction. SSOC (Marvel Comics) was an entertaining and amusing comic to read for its adaptations of the various Conan stories that had been around in paperback book form for some years. Robert E. Howard (American, of Texas) had created this character in the late 1920s and had submitted various yarns (and many were published) to the pulp fiction magazines of the time, such as Weird Tales. Howard’s brilliant and promising literary career was cut violently short by his suicide in 1936 at the age of 30. (Seem to recall reading that he was distraught over the death of his mother.) Starting around 1951, L. Sprague de Camp, took up the mantle and with unfinished manuscripts from Howard’s literary estate as a basis, began writing stories of Conan’s adventures in the fanciful Hyborian Age.
Some years later (and thousands of miles to the west since college days), in the very late 1980s, I began to frequent a used bookstore in the Sunset district of San Francisco. (The Sunset district is so named as one can, on a clear evening, see the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean. Really, quite a beautiful sight.) Browsing the rare and often out of print books at such a bookstore is one of life’s simple pleasures. In this bookstore, there were many titles on eastern religions, history, philosophy and yes on fantasy and fiction (including science fiction). As many books were in paperback form, the prices were very “cheap” and good deals were to be had! There I acquired many of the mass market paperbacks (from the 1960s) with the Conan stories in chronological order of the character’s “career”. Now, instead of taking a nap on the streetcar to and from work each day, I could read some of these entertaining stories. No heavy philosophy here – just the joy of venturing into a fantasy world where all the men are strong and brave, and all the women are stunningly and erotically beautiful and always scantily clad.
Before proceeding to the comic cover art, let’s just say that my exposure to these, at times, violent stories (where men are slain by swords or knives or battle axes, women are rescued from villains, and sometimes women are taken as “trophies” and as spoils of battle) did not lead me to beat my wife or to getting into physical fights with co-workers, etc. Perhaps, only video games can do that to a person?
From the fall of 1979, this cover has Conan fighting for his life as the snake (python?) both tightens its coils and aims to strike for the throat for the kill. SSOC 46 is courtesy of coveredblog.blogspot.com. Earl Norem was the artist, and was probably the best of all the artists for these covers.
SSOC 47 cover (Norem is the artist) is courtesy of comicvine. After a hard day’s battle, amidst all the blood and gore, Conan has a “trophy” of his own and she appears to be not unwilling.
SSOC 32 (below) is courtesy of comicvine.com. A different artist here. There was a coed in my corporate finance class, Betsy, that looked quite a bit like this fanciful femme fatale.
SSOC 53 (artist is Norem) is courtesy of comicvine.com. Such muscle definition in the art. Barbarians must have been rock or boulder lifters.
SSOC 51 is courtesy of comicvine. (We think that Norem is the artist on this cover.) The use of blue and a little mist is done quite well and gives the impression of mystery.
SSOC 54 is courtesy of comicvine.com. (Norem for sure here.) How does one fight a demon that is in the sands? Cold, hard steel cannot touch it or get at it.
SSOC 41 (Norem) is courtesy of comiccollectorlive.com.
SSOC 43 is courtesy of coveredblog.blogspot.com. Earl Norem is not the artist and it shows as the work is not as crisp to the eye.
SSOC 70 is courtesy of comicvine.com and Norem again is the artist. What a nightmare to be up against!
This last cover is much more recent in the ongoing series, but the quality of the art appears to have decreased (perhaps by becoming too realistic) and the style of depiction has changed. SSOC #170 is courtesy of marvel.wikia.com.