Various writers and artists
Marvel Comics, 2019
Holiday season this year was weird, maybe for you, too, so you might have missed that one gift you really wanted, which is this book, THE MARVEL ART OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN. It features a starring range of covers from years as barbarian, king, adventurer, and a few brash parodies, mixed together with inside panels, original art spreads, cusps, cameos, and panoramas touched with vanishing text bullets with titular tidbits worth seeking out, all edifyingly lickable, mostly just names of your star artists from bygone amours. The square 9×11 format rocks, the glossy pages of sizzling color singe your fingers. I have to fondle it one more time before we start.
This art memoir from 2019 fell into my hands at just the right moment as I surround myself with new Conan reprints in omnibus formats, and gape again at artwork from the early runs of Conan the Barbarian and the oversize black-and-white Savage Sword of Conan, which unfortunately is reproduced in a smaller format than the originals, in the same way many European reprints get reduced when we see them. Yet the result is still awesome to hold and absorb shiny new all over again.
There was a time there was always a Savage Sword lying around the house. John Buscema drawing Conan is what life looked like for a long time. When he finally left in 1986, I admit, I was frightened. The long, last epic, up to Issue 185 exhausted me. Everyone I knew was dead, except Conan, and who knows how all these evils and lost loves would harden him into someone never the same. The artist and writer changed, and I lay panting on the floor. They moved on. Eventually a leaf stirred, and I opened an eyelid. In an index, I discovered Conan the Barbarian, Issue 209 started a new team, with writer Jim Owsley, art by Val Semeiks, and inks by Alfredo Alcala. That has to be good. Finding the year I missed feels like home, or at least like a cabin in the mountains above the treeline where you can be really happy to find shelter, by Crom.
All of this is why coming back to see the first covers and art by Barry Windsor-Smith is a delight in itself and also as a seal fusing the ends of a circle together. Saying why it all appeals as art, or as Conan, is way too vast to say in these last lines as we sway over snakes and snarling creatures with a sinuous she slung sideways under one arm, struggling to stay alive. This one book shows it all, revived, and in thrall.