Wednesday, 27 June 2012



Most people will be aware that, when MARVEL decided to launch their CONAN The BARBARIAN four-colour comicbook back in 1970Big JOHN BUSCEMA was first choice as artist to illustrate the swarthy Cimmerian's action-packed adventures.  Only one problem with that however - too expensive.  There was a severely limited budget for the comic and writer ROY THOMAS was already paying more than Marvel's publisher MARTIN GOODMAN had authorised for the rights to use ROBERT E. HOWARD's sword and sorcery swashbuckler.

Well, the rest is history.  The less-expensive BARRY SMITH (later WINDSOR-Smith) was assigned the task of bringing Conan's comicbook career to life, which he did with verve and vitality as befitting the bold barbarian's bombastic and bloodthirsty battles.  As we're well aware, John Buscema eventually did become the series' regular artist (drawing more issues than anyone else), but what might that first adventure have looked like had he pencilled the premiere issue as originally planned?

Fortunately, such a possibility isn't merely confined to the realms of speculation as, in 1994 - nearly half a century after Conan's debut issue - Big John finally brought his artistic magic to that '70s tale from Conan The Barbarian #1.  Personally speaking, I'd have preferred to see the story drawn with a more traditional grid-layout without the page-bleeds, and in colour as opposed to black and white.  The last panel in particular cries out for colour - or even some kind of shading to indicate the moon against the night sky, as described in one of the captions.  As it is, it's short on some sorely-needed atmosphere and lacks the impact of Smith's earlier version.

However, despite being robbed of the opportunity to compare 'like-with-like' in the strictest sense, it's fascinating to see Big J's take on Thomas's titanic tale, although it would have been even better had JOE SINNOTT or TOM PALMER performed the inking chores.  Perhaps one day they'll reprint it in colour and give readers a better idea of what could have been had "the Michelangelo of comics" (as Smilin' STAN 'The Man' LEE dubbed him) drawn the Hyborian hero's dynamic debut all those years ago.

Anyway, enjoy "The COMING Of CONAN!" from the June '94 issue of The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #222.  Take a look at Conan's first appearance here - then come back and say which visual version of the tale you prefer - and why.

(The two pages below should be read as a double-page spread.)

(Like below.  Click to enlarge, then click again for optimum size.)


Dougie said...

I like this version well enough but it lacks the exoticism of the original: the alien nature of Tara, the fanciful armour of Smith's Kull, the symbols outside the cave. As a kid, I was struck by the futuristic spacecraft, the element that gave this fantasy a flavour of authenticity. I also like Smith's Kirby-isms.

"Real" Conan is Low Fantasy: historical adventure with supernatural flourishes. Marvel's Conan, under Smith, has an unearthly, dream-like delicacy mixed with comic-book dynamism.

Kid said...

I think the trouble is, Dougie, that Buscema had already long-established his version of Conan by the time he got around to drawing this tale. Had he drawn the character from the start, he would probably have infused the strip with the very qualities you mention. Roy Thomas would have insisted on it, I'm sure. (You can see hints of what Buscema might have done with Conan in the pages of Avengers #75 & 76, with Arkon and his world.)

baab said...

One looks like a magic carpet,the other a dusty old rug.
Both are wonderful.

I would never have seen this either,so thanks for this ,Kid.

I did write a couple of paragraphs but then re read both of your comments at the left hand side and I guess there was nothing more to add.

Anonymous said...

Joe Sinnott and Tom Palmer did ink Conan over John, just before Steve Gan's run. In Sinnott's case, he would have overpowered Buscema's style.

The thing to keep in mind is, look at Conan himself: this is some strapling teenager? Nope, Buscema's version is the fully grown guy.

BWS, basically, was the right guy for that part of the story.

Kid said...

Basically, what I was saying was that IF John had drawn the strip from the start, inked by Sinnott or Palmer, and IF he had been receptive to input and guidance on how Conan should look from Roy Thomas, and IF it had been in colour and a traditional grid layout, then we might have been able to compare Buscema's version more favourably with that of Smith's.

As it is, John was just churning out yet another in a long line of strips with a character he had already developed a style for. He just wouldn't have been trying as hard as Barry was when he drew CTB #1. One can tell from the sparsity of background detail that Big J was just knocking it out.

Smith's version is certainly the more exotic looking and interesting of the two versions, but I believe Buscema would have done a far better job than he later did with that particular story had he tackled it in 1970 instead of 1994.

Also, the Buscema splash page has a grey wash on it which gives it a bit of depth, whereas the remainder of the strip is in black and white. Had the other pages also had the same tone, I think they would have been vastly improved.

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