Rob Lamberti
Dell - 127
Movies - 126
Ali - 125
Charlton - 124
Comic art - 123
Santa Claus - 122
Star Wars
comics - 121
themes - 120
Some 75th birthdays/119
Comic art legends/117
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Marvel Comics/113
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Classic Illustrated/109
Romance comics/108
Tales to Astonish/106
A prized collection/105
Deaths of heroes/104
Caring for comics/103
Grading comics/102
Crime comics/101
Collecting comics/100
Green Goblin/99
How I got started/94
Let's Talk Comics

Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
By Rob Lamberti,
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 in 1929.
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.
Howard 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 for Marvel.
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.
Previous column: Dell's years as a comics giant
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.
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.
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