Most authors would love to create an iconic character. And why not? It’s one of the ultimate literary achievements, to create a character that lasts through the ages, whose name is instantly recognized among mass culture. Speculative books, comics, movies, etc. have certainly contributed a number of such characters over the years. To name a few: Dracula, Frankenstein, Tarzan, Superman, Batman, the Joker, Spider-Man (I’ll leave it to the comic experts to debate what other comic characters qualify as truly iconic), Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and of course, the subject of this post, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian.
The character of Conan made his first appearance back in the December 1932 issue of the magazine Weird Tales. Conan would prove to be wildly popular, and along with fellow Weird Tales authors H.P. Lovecraft & Clark Ashton Smith, Howard would go on to become one of the magazine’s Big Three during the golden age of pulp fiction. Howard sold quite a number of stories to Weird Tales and other venues before he committed suicide in 1936, but Conan was his most enduring creation. During Howard’s lifetime he sold 17 Conan stories to Weird Tales (“Red Nails,” the final Conan story to appear in Weird Tales, was published posthumously). In the ensuing years, a number of his unpublished Conan stories found their way to print, and several authors—most notably L. Sprague de Camp—completed Howard’s unfinished tales and brought those to print.
Since then, Robert E. Howard has come to mean to sword & sorcery what J.R.R. Tolkien means to epic fantasy. As to Conan, he has appeared in just about every medium you can imagine: books, comics, B&W illustrated magazines, comic strips, movies, live-action TV, cartoons,video games, RPGs, figurines ...you name it. Somewhere along the way, Conan transcended into the realm of icon among the public consciousness. The character is still going strong today, all thanks to some 17 stories published in the space of 4 years.
[Read on for more sword-swinging goodness.]