One of the most popular shows now on television is Game of
Thrones, one that many watch with hands over their eyes.
While the genre of the show is relatively new to the small
screen, it's part of a much older one - sword and sorcery - that
stretches back to at least early last century. It was defined
when Robert E. Howard penned his first tale of Conan the Barbarian
story for Weird Fantasy in 1932, The Phoenix and the Sword.
It was followed by an 8,000-word tome on the Hyborian Age
where Howard created a world that Conan would rampage, battle
and ravish. He fought wizards and dragons, or some such slimy
creatures, and opposing armies before he would kill the King
of Aquilonia to claim his crown. Howard also wrote Kull of Atlantis
It is probable academics would argue sword-and-sorcery has
always claimed a significant spot in literature, in such tales
as Beowulf or Homer's Odyssey, and that they laid the foundations
of the genre.
Conan first appeared in a Marvel comic - Conan the Barbarian
- in 1970, with spectacular art by Barry Windsor Smith in the
first 16 issues and again in issues 19 to 24. The title ran for
275 issues. The company also published various magazine-sized
black and white Conan titles, including Savage Tales, Savage
Sword of Conan and the Conan Saga, along with other four-colour
comic book-sized spin-offs like Conan the King.
Marvel spiced up the genre with the introduction of Red Sonja
in Conan the Barbarian issues 23 and 24 in 1973. She later got
a short-lived title of her own, but it would be cancelled after
the 15th issue in 1979.
Howard's character Kull would also be given a Marvel comic
title, but it was not as successful as Conan.
Another early pioneer of the genre was Fritz Leiber, who
with original concept input from his friend Harry Otto Fischer,
wrote about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The stories began in
1939 and ended in 1988. The characters originally appeared in
DC comics in 1972 after their competitor established the popularity
of Conan. DC gave the characters their own title in 1973, Sword
of Sorcery with art by Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Bernie Wrightson,
Mike Kaluta, Walt Simonson and Jim Starlin. Despite the artistic
firepower, the title only lasted five issues.
The genre got its title of sword-and-sorcery following an
exchange between British author Michael Moorcock and Leiber.
Moorcock suggested calling the genre epic fantasy in a column
1961, but Leiber responded in his own column, suggesting the
sword-and-sorcery label as a better and more complete catch phrase,
and it stuck.
Epic fantasy, however, was used to describe its own genre
and the difference between the two is divided by wall that's
a hair or two thick: The Odyssey is sword and sorcery while the
Iliad is epic fantasy; the Hobbit is sword and sorcery while
Lord of The Rings is epic fantasy.
wrote about two-dozen Conan tales and they were almost lost to
time until science fiction writers and editors L. Sprague de
Camp and Lin Carter revived them. Stirring artwork by Frank Frazetta,
who for many drew the definitive Conan, graced the paperback
books published by Lancer/Ace in the 1960s and '70s. Howard's
body of work wasn't extensive despite his proficiency in what
would be a brief, but spectacular, career. He committed suicide
in 1936 as his mother lay in a coma, dying of an illness. They
were buried the same day.
Fast-forward to the 1970s and Marvel was looking for a winner
on the newsstands. It was during a cyclical downturn as comic
book sales were drifting downward when the company's management
cautiously decided to purchase the rights to publish a bi-monthly
comic based on Howard's character. It quickly caught on, but
as soon as it was made a monthly issue, sales slipped. It was
reduced to a bi-monthly again. Sales picked up and again pushed
onto a monthly schedule, where it stayed.
After that sputtering start, Marvel led the way in sword-and-sorcery
in comics. The publishing houses, like DC and Gold Key, followed
the trend. Gold Key published Dagar the Invincible by writer
Donald Glut and artist Jesse Santos, beginning in 1972 on an
18-issue run. But it was Conan that captured the imaginations
of readers and the character remained a fairly strong seller
In the collectable market, high grade and low grade Conan
books can move at a fair pace, but mid-grades (fine to very fine)
for the most part move slowly, stymied by higher market prices
for books that show some wear and tear. Dealers are probably
on the whole more ready to bargain on the mid-grades in some
Silver and many Bronze Age books.
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting
comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker
really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit
in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on
his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great
metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a
little bit of history the past three decades.