A Conversation with
Roy Thomas (Part 2)
Part 1 | Part 2
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Part 5 | Part 6
I saw you about three years ago at a Heroes
and Dragons show, and I was amazed at how many folks showed up with entire runs of
Savage Sword of Conan for you to autograph. Of course, you sign every comic graciously. But it occurred to me later, how did they collect all the issues and keep them in such good shape? When I was a kid,
Savage Sword was so hard to find. I wasn't aware of an oversized bag back then to keep the black-and-whites in such good shape.
They really didn't fit in the racks at the grocery stores and drug stores. But
Savage Sword always sold really well until the early '90s. Fans bring that up a lot. Along with
The X-Men and The Avengers from the '70s, another thing I get asked about is
All-Star Sqadron from my '80s work.
It looked to me like these folks wanted to see more of Conan. What happened to the sword-and-sorcery market?
The genre pretty much sank after about 20 years. The
Conan comics tapered off to the point of barely surviving in the comic books now. By the mid-'70s,
Conan had become one of Marvel's top-selling magazines. If you'll remember the Marvel Medallions featured in the mail-order ads, Conan was one of the three characters featured on them. Back then, Marvel had the license for
Conan merchandising, but they don't anymore. Conan got a big push in the '80s with the first movie's release, but after that
Conan began to taper off. By the time I returned to Conan in the early '90s, it was probably past its prime.
I think a Conan
return is just a matter of somebody coming in and revitalizing the character. Marvel just isn't paying much attention to it now.
Marvel became interested in Conan several years ago and they produced some
Conans that were so awful! Those issues could have only served to hurt
the character. That version was so unlike Conan with this awful drawing style that's so prevalent today with the big bodies and the little heads. It was just atrocious!
It's a genuine testament to the power of the
Conan character that no one else could do anything with that genre. The only other extended success would probably have been Mike Grell's
To me, Warlord
had more in common with the modernization of Edgar Rice Burroughs than with Robert E. Howard.
Jon Carter, you mean?
Right. Grell did a good job with that series. I always thought it was ridiculous that the big coffee table book [Les Daniels's
50 Years of the World's Greatest Heroes] didn't mention Warlord
at all. Warlord was a big success for DC at that time.
Even Red Sonja
was never a big hit. It ran 20 or so issues over two series, but never a big hit. Other companies tried [sword-and-sorcery] titles, like
Dagar at Gold Key. DC tried Claw the Unconquered—
Ironwolf, again, was partly Burroughs, partly Howard. Atlas had a couple of them that lasted an issue or two each. It just never quite worked. There was something about the character of
Conan that was just right.
Conan had Howard's good stories and good artists in its heyday. But then Robert E. Howard's other creations didn't sell necessarily either.
So maybe you get some of the credit?
Arak had a nice run.
50 issues make it one of the more respectable ones. DC could have kept that going, but Dann and I felt it best to quit as opposed to hanging around.
Wasn't there a
Conan cartoon as well?
Yes, I worked on that directly. Officially, it was totally produced in France by a completely French company, with Carla Conway and I acting as translators. That was basically a fiction. Carla and I were WRITING the scripts. Christie Marx worked on that. Christie had done some
Red Sonja work and her own title, The Sisterhood of Steel, previously.
How long into that first production meeting did the producers drop the words "The
Barbarian" from the title? [Replacing it with the tamer Conan
I always thought the title
Conan the Adventurer sounded weak, even though that was the name of Howard's first paperback book. Maybe the producers dropped "The
Barbarian" to lessen confusion with the movie that Universal had done.
That's really funny because Robert E. Howard never refers to Conan as "Conan the Barbarian" in any of his stories. As far as I know, in the 20 or so stories, he's called "Conan," "Conan the Cimmerian," but he's never called Conan the Barbarian.
The actual title "Conan
the Barbarian" originated with the Gnome Press hardback book released in the 1950s. They never used "the Barbarian" on the paperback editions. When Marvel's
Conan comic was in the planning stages, I knew "the Barbarian" wouldn't be confused with the paperbacks, so I resuscitated it for that reason. I knew Stan [Lee] would never allow me call him "Conan the Cimmerian" anyway, because Cimmerian didn't mean anything to the audience.
That and "Cimmerian" sounds like a religious denomination.
[Laughs.] Yeah, or historians would confuse Cimmerians with Sumerians.