Conan the Barbarian, a name that reverberates through the annals of fantasy literature and popular culture, is a character whose image is synonymous with audacious adventures and raw, unmitigated strength. Created by American author Robert E. Howard in the 1930s, Conan inhabits a world that exists in the shadowy corners of human history—the mythical Hyborian Age. With his creation, Howard did not merely introduce a character; he gave birth to an archetype, a stalwart symbol of heroism and barbarism, forever altering the landscape of the fantasy genre.
Conan was first conceived for a series of short stories published in ‘Weird Tales’, a pulp magazine of the era. Howard’s creation was a primal response to a society that was rapidly succumbing to the machinations of modernization. Conan, the Cimmerian, was a barbarian in the truest sense—born in a primitive, tribal society, and living by his strength, wits, and indomitable will. Despite his raw physical power, Conan was no mere brute. He possessed a cunning intellect, a strong moral compass, and a deep sense of independence. These traits set him apart from the stereotypical image of a barbarian, making him a character of significant depth and complexity.
Howard’s Hyborian Age was a rich and varied landscape, populated by a myriad of cultures, races, and religions. It was a world where magic was real, monsters lurked in dark corners, and gods were as capricious as they were powerful. This world served as the perfect stage for Conan’s adventures, presenting challenges that tested his mettle and character. From battling grotesque creatures to outwitting nefarious sorcerers, Conan’s exploits have enthralled readers for generations.
The cultural significance of Conan the Barbarian cannot be overstated. He is a symbol of power and freedom, a character who lives by his own rules in a world bound by none. His influence has permeated not just the realm of literature, but also visual arts, cinema, and video games. Conan’s enduring popularity is a testament to the universal appeal of his character—a free spirit navigating a world of danger and adventure, bound only by his own indomitable will.
The journey of Conan from the ink-dipped pen of Robert E. Howard to the collective consciousness of popular culture has been a fascinating one. It’s a journey filled with legends, heroes, and challenges, mirroring the tumultuous life of Conan himself. As we delve into the history and legacy of this iconic character, we shall also explore his future, particularly with his recent entry into the public domain—a development that has allowed for new interpretations and adaptations, including an exciting project by The Fourth Age Comics. The saga of Conan the Barbarian continues, and it is as thrilling and unpredictable as the character himself.
II. Conan’s Origins
Robert E. Howard, the architect of the Hyborian Age and its most infamous inhabitant, Conan, was a man of vivid imagination and profound creativity. Born in the small town of Peaster, Texas, in 1906, Howard’s formative years were shaped by a deep love for history and mythology, which would later manifest in his writing.
Conan first appeared in the short story “The Phoenix on the Sword,” published in the December 1932 issue of ‘Weird Tales’. The character was a departure from the civilized heroes common in fantasy literature of the time. Howard explained his choice in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, another writer for ‘Weird Tales’: “I simply took the view that a man who was born and bred among a primitive, warlike race, who lived all his life in one of the most turbulent and lawless periods of the world’s history… would act according to the law of his environment.”
Howard’s vision of Conan was that of an unshackled force of nature, a man uncorrupted by civilization’s trappings.
- He was a “thief, a reaver, a slayer,” yet imbued with a strict code of personal honor and justice.
- He was muscular and robust, embodying the raw power of a predator, but also intelligent, quick-witted, and adaptable.
- He hailed from the harsh, unforgiving lands of Cimmeria, a place of constant strife and survival, shaping his outlook on life and his warrior spirit.
The Hyborian Age, the setting of Conan’s adventures, was a melting pot of various societies and cultures. It was a world that drew heavily from real-world history, mythology, and Howard’s own imagination. As Howard wrote in his essay, “The Hyborian Age”, the world of Conan was created by “using history as a guide and avoiding all fictional names and events.” The result was a world teeming with vibrant cultures, ancient mysteries, and a sense of realism that grounded Conan’s fantastical adventures.
Howard’s Conan was not just a character, but an embodiment of his philosophy about civilization’s fragility and the inherent nobility of man. As Rusty Burke, a prominent Robert E. Howard scholar, once noted, “Conan is the natural man, the embodiment of a sort of libertarian ideal. He is the antithesis of the civilized man, the critic of civilization, because civilization is worth criticizing.”
Through Conan and the Hyborian Age, Robert E. Howard created a rich tapestry of adventure, danger, and wonder. He brought to life a character and a world that have withstood the test of time, continuing to captivate audiences nearly a century later. Howard’s depiction of Conan, his unique blend of savagery and nobility, and the fascinating world of the Hyborian Age form the bedrock upon which all subsequent iterations of the character have been built.
III. Conan in Literature
Following Robert E. Howard’s untimely death in 1936, the sword of Conan was passed to other authors who expanded upon the Cimmerian’s legacy. These writers brought their own perspectives and styles to the world of the Hyborian Age, further enriching the tapestry of Conan’s saga.
The first significant expansion of the Conan mythos came from L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. They revised and completed several of Howard’s unfinished stories, and penned their own tales, ensuring that the adventures of the Barbarian continued. Their efforts culminated in the series of Conan books published by Lancer/Ace in the 1960s and 70s, which played a pivotal role in reviving interest in the character.
Key highlights from this era include:
– The reworking of Howard’s original stories, in addition to the creation of new stories that explored previously uncharted territories of the Hyborian Age.
– An emphasis on a more linear timeline of Conan’s life, offering readers a more cohesive understanding of the character’s journey.
More recently, acclaimed fantasy author Robert Jordan, renowned for his ‘Wheel of Time’ series, authored several Conan novels in the 1980s. His work added depth and nuance to Conan’s character, further expanding on the societal and political structures of the Hyborian Age.
As Jordan once said, “In Conan, Howard created something new, something that wasn’t there before he imagined it. Conan was a new kind of hero, a hero who didn’t rely on magic or divine assistance, who relied on his own strength and his own cunning and his own skill.”
The character’s enduring popularity has also led to numerous short story anthologies featuring the work of various authors, such as the ‘Conan of Cimmeria’ series published by Wandering Star/Del Rey from 2003 to 2005. These collections, featuring both adaptations and original stories, are further testament to Conan’s lasting appeal and the breadth of his world.
Themes commonly explored in these stories include:
– The struggle between civilization and savagery, often with Conan serving as the embodiment of natural man in conflict with more ‘civilized’ societies.
– The corrupting influence of power, with Conan frequently pitted against tyrants, sorcerers, and other individuals intoxicated by their own might.
– The human capacity for resilience and survival, a trait epitomized by Conan himself.
With every new story, the legend of Conan the Barbarian continues to grow. Each author brings their unique perspective, enhancing the depth and breadth of the Hyborian Age. Despite the varying interpretations, the core of Conan’s character—his strength, cunning, and indomitable spirit—remains intact, a testament to the enduring power of Howard’s original creation. These tales serve not only as thrilling adventures but also as explorations of fundamental human themes, ensuring that Conan’s saga continues to resonate with each new generation of readers.
IV. Conan in Comics
From the pulp pages of ‘Weird Tales’ to the vibrant panels of comic books, Conan the Barbarian has made a significant impact on the comic book industry. His entry into the medium marked the beginning of a new chapter in his saga, further cementing his status as a cultural icon.
Marvel Comics began publishing Conan stories in 1970, marking the character’s first foray into the world of comics. The initial series, “Conan the Barbarian,” was primarily helmed by writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith. Their work on the series was groundbreaking, with stories that captured the raw power and the primal allure of Howard’s original tales.
Key points from this era include:
- The first comic book adaptation of Conan, “The Coming of Conan”, which established the character’s visual identity in comics.
- The introduction of the character Red Sonja, a fiery warrior woman who became a popular figure in her own right.
- The creation of epic story arcs, such as “The Song of Red Sonja” and “The Tower of the Elephant,” which are considered classic Conan tales.
Following Windsor-Smith’s departure, John Buscema took over the artistic reins. Buscema’s work on the series, characterized by dynamic action sequences and detailed world-building, significantly influenced the visual language of Conan comics. As Roy Thomas once remarked, “John Buscema’s Conan was the definitive Conan.”
The success of “Conan the Barbarian” led to several spin-off titles and a second ongoing series, “The Savage Sword of Conan,” which featured longer, more mature stories. The character also made a successful transition to other comic book publishers, most notably Dark Horse Comics in the early 2000s and back to Marvel Comics in 2019.
The legacy of Conan in comics includes:
- The introduction of a new generation of readers to the character and his world.
- The birth of the Sword and Sorcery genre in comics, influencing titles like “Red Sonja,” “Kull the Conqueror,” and “Solomon Kane.”
- The creation of iconic comic book images and stories that have become an integral part of the Conan mythology.
Conan’s journey through the realm of comic books has been filled with epic adventures, unforgettable characters, and stunning artwork. His stories have resonated with audiences, offering a blend of high adventure, brutal combat, and philosophical musings. This potent combination has ensured that Conan’s popularity has endured, making him a cornerstone of the comic book industry. As we continue to explore the history and legacy of Conan the Barbarian, his impact on the world of comics stands as a testament to the character’s universal appeal and enduring power.
V. Conan in Film and Television
Beyond the realms of literature and comics, Conan the Barbarian has also made significant inroads in the world of film and television, further expanding his reach and solidifying his position in popular culture.
The character’s first cinematic outing was in the 1982 film “Conan the Barbarian,” directed by John Milius and featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the titular role. This film, with its atmospheric storytelling, quotable dialogue, and a memorable score by Basil Poledouris, has since become a cult classic. Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of Conan, marked by physicality and stoic charisma, has become an iconic interpretation of the character. As Milius said during the film’s production, “Arnold has a sense of destiny that is very much like Conan’s.”
Key aspects of the 1982 film include:
- A darker, more philosophical narrative that explored themes of power, civilization, and personal destiny.
- The introduction of the ‘Riddle of Steel,’ a concept that has become a staple in Conan lore.
- The birth of iconic lines such as “What is best in life?” which has become a popular phrase associated with Conan.
A sequel, “Conan the Destroyer,” was released in 1984, featuring a lighter tone and a more adventure-oriented plot. While not as critically acclaimed as its predecessor, the film expanded Conan’s cinematic universe and introduced new characters and elements to the mythology.
Conan’s adventures have also been adapted for television, notably in the animated series “Conan the Adventurer” in the 1990s, and the live-action series “Conan the Adventurer” in the mid-2000s. These adaptations have introduced the character to younger audiences, ensuring his relevance and popularity across generations.
Key points from Conan’s television adaptations include:
- The portrayal of a younger, more idealistic Conan in the animated series, offering a different take on the character.
- The live-action series’ exploration of Conan’s journey from a young warrior to a seasoned adventurer, providing a broader narrative scope.
Despite varying interpretations and differing quality across adaptations, Conan’s presence in film and television has significantly contributed to his cultural impact. The character’s universal appeal, coupled with the rich world of the Hyborian Age, offers a fertile ground for cinematic exploration. As we look towards the future of Conan, the potential for new film and television adaptations, particularly in the era of streaming platforms, is immense.
The journey of Conan the Barbarian, from the pulp magazines of the 1930s to the cinematic landscapes of the 21st century, is a testament to the timeless appeal of his character. As we explore his future, particularly with his recent entry into the public domain, the possibilities for new and exciting adaptations are limitless. The saga of Conan the Barbarian continues, and it is as thrilling and unpredictable as the character himself.
VI. Conan Enters the Public Domain and The Fourth Age Comics’ New Direction
With the passage of time, Conan the Barbarian has entered the public domain, marking a significant milestone in the character’s storied history. This development opens up a world of possibilities for creators, allowing them to bring their unique perspectives to the world of the Hyborian Age. One such creative endeavor is underway at The Fourth Age Comics, where the legendary Cimmerian is being reimagined in a fresh, exciting way.
The Fourth Age Comics, an independent publisher known for its commitment to innovative storytelling and artistic excellence, has embarked on an ambitious project to redefine Conan’s legacy. Spearheaded by comic artist Nik Axe and writer RJ Shaw, this project presents a new version of the iconic character, named “King.” Their story begins with an older Conan, offering a perspective rarely explored in previous iterations.
Key elements of The Fourth Age Comics’ approach include:
- Depicting Conan in his later years, exploring the wisdom, experiences, and challenges that come with age.
- Maintaining the essence of the character while bringing fresh elements to his narrative, creating a version of Conan that is both familiar and new.
- Utilizing the freedom provided by the public domain to take bold narrative risks and expand the boundaries of the Hyborian Age.
Nik Axe and RJ Shaw’s upcoming comic book will be released on IndieGoGo.com, a platform that has become a vibrant space for independent comic creators. This decision reflects The Fourth Age Comics’ commitment to reaching audiences directly and maintaining creative control over their work. As Nik Axe explained, “Our aim is to restore the character to his former glory, presenting a version of Conan that is true to the spirit of Robert E. Howard’s creation while offering something new for today’s audiences.”
The Fourth Age Comics’ project represents an exciting development in the history of Conan the Barbarian. With the character now in the public domain, creators have the freedom to explore and reinterpret Conan’s world in ways that were previously impossible. This freedom, coupled with the passion and creativity of artists like Nik Axe and RJ Shaw, ensures that the legacy of Conan the Barbarian will continue to grow and evolve.
The entry of Conan into the public domain and the new direction taken by The Fourth Age Comics is a testament to the character’s enduring appeal and cultural relevance. As we look towards the future, it is clear that the saga of Conan the Barbarian is far from over. In fact, it may be entering its most exciting chapter yet. As RJ Shaw stated, “We’re not just retelling the Conan story; we’re reimagining it. We’re breathing new life into the legend, and we can’t wait for readers to join us on this journey.”
VII. Conclusion: Conan’s Enduring Legacy and Future
In the course of his epic journey, Conan the Barbarian has transcended his origins in the pulp magazines of the 1930s to become a cultural icon. His influence can be seen in a multitude of media, from literature and comics to film and television. The character’s enduring popularity and universal appeal make him a compelling figure, one that continues to captivate audiences worldwide.
The reasons for Conan’s enduring popularity are manifold:
- His embodiment of the primal, indomitable spirit of humanity, set against the backdrop of the savage and awe-inspiring world of the Hyborian Age.
- His existential philosophy, expressed through his actions and choices, reflecting a deeply human struggle to find purpose and meaning in a chaotic world.
- The richness and diversity of his world, filled with a wide array of characters, cultures, and creatures, offering endless possibilities for storytelling.
Robert E. Howard, with his vivid imagination and compelling prose, gave birth to a character that resonates with people across generations. As fantasy author Michael Moorcock once said, “Howard was a true storyteller in the traditional sense, with a keen understanding of the human psyche. His creation, Conan, remains a testament to his skill and vision.”
With the character entering the public domain, Conan’s future looks more promising than ever. Independent creators now have the freedom to interpret and reimagine the world of the Hyborian Age, bringing fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the table. One such project is the work of comic artist Nik Axe and writer RJ Shaw, who are crafting a new narrative for an older version of Conan, named “King,” through their independent publisher The Fourth Age Comics.
The future of Conan holds:
- The potential for a broader range of stories and interpretations, thanks to the character’s entry into the public domain.
- New creative endeavors, such as The Fourth Age Comics’ upcoming comic book, which promises to bring a fresh and exciting perspective to the world of Conan.
- The continued exploration and expansion of the Hyborian Age, through various media and platforms, ensuring that Conan’s saga continues to captivate audiences for generations to come.
As we look forward to the future of Conan the Barbarian, we can expect to see the character continue to evolve and adapt, reflecting the changing tastes and sensibilities of audiences. Yet, at the core, the essence of Conan – his indomitable spirit, his fierce independence, and his primal strength – will remain unchanged. After all, these are the qualities that have made him a beloved character and a cultural icon.
In the words of Nik Axe, “Conan is more than just a character; he’s a symbol. He represents the human spirit in its rawest form – fierce, resilient, and unconquerable. As we embark on this journey with ‘King,’ we aim to honor this spirit and continue the legacy of Conan the Barbarian. Here’s to the next chapter in the saga of the world’s greatest barbarian!”