Later Savage Sword of Conan Volumes

savage sword 13I’m a late comer to The Savage Sword of Conan. You’d probably have figured that, much as I like sword-and-sorcery, I’d have a huge stack of old sword-and-sorcery comics, but I don’t. I missed out on Savage Sword when it was a mag, and I almost missed out on the Dark Horse reprints. There are 22 of the things, which is a heck of an investment. If, like me, you came upon them with little clue but were curious, you’d probably wonder where to start.

I think anyone who’s heard of these has likewise heard that only the first few compilations are good, because those were the ones with Roy Thomas and John Buscema, and only in the first three or four are they adapting actual Robert E. Howard stories. Their work actually continues on into Volume 6, although by that point they’re mostly adapting pastiche tales, and lesser writers are contributing to some comics in the collection. I have to say that sometimes there’s nothing Thomas could do to make the pastiche better, but sometimes he and Buscema really make it more Howardian than the pastichers ever managed, and occasionally they do even better than that.

savage sword 16After that last collection with Thomas (6), it looks like a long desert until he returns at the very end of Volume 18. But there are wonderful stories in between, if you know where to look. Once volume 13 hits, it’s more than an occasional oasis, because Chuck Dixon is on the scene, usually teamed with artist and sometimes collaborator, the talented Gary Kwapisz.

Dixon’s taken some grief because his Hyborian age doesn’t quite sync up with Howard’s geographically, and he adds things to Conan’s speech pattern, including a cool catch phrase, more frequent references to Crom, and other asides. But, by gum, in his hands Conan acts like Conan, the plots get complex and interesting, the secondary characters have personalities, and there’s both occasional poignancy and appropriately Howardian humor. I was regularly pleased, thrilled, and surprised by these stories. They were grand fun.

savage sword 17To my mind Dixon’s consistently at his best in the first three volumes (13-15), when he’s often telling connected epics, but he has fine tales in later volumes (16-18) as well, and Volumes 16 and 17 have additional surprises. In volume 16, writer Gerry Conway steps in and drafts a four part epic of an older Conan adventuring in distant lands, and they feel an awful lot like Thomas penning his best Conan adventures. I wish he’d have written more!

In volume 17 there are a few good Chuck Dixon penned tales, including an excellent one he co-plotted with Kwapisz, and two great Conan adventures written by Doug Moench. The Moench tales are so on the money I wish to God he’d have taken up the mag for a while, and I’m now looking forward to his brief run on King Conan. Maybe he only asked to write for Savage Sword when he had a great idea, because boy did he bring his A game, drafting like Thomas or Dixon at their very best. The conclusion of “The Tomb of Lost Visions” is so damned good it reads like something Robert E. Howard himself would have come up with.

All of these have been collected in Dark Horse reprints at this time. Go forth, sword-and-sorcery lovers, and read them! I’ve recently parted with volumes 7-12, but I’m keeping 1-6 and 13-22 for the long haul, for there are wondrous treasures therein.

8 Comments on “Later Savage Sword of Conan Volumes

  1. I was lucky (and old enough) to be able to pick up the original magazines as they came out. Nothing like going to the local 7-11 and looking for comics, while seeing a Savage Sword, a Creepy, an Eerie or a Famous Monsters in the magazine rack. A former co-worker and author friend of mine gave me a huge collection of Savage Sword and Conan Saga magazines a few years back. Now that I have completed my Tor pastiche collection (still need a couple of the Trade pbs), I am hoping to collect more original Savage Sword. Great artwork throughout and I would rate the vast majority of stories as very enjoyable.
    I discovered Conan in the order:
    Conan the Barbarian comic
    Savage Sword of Conan
    Ace 1981 Conan series.

    And have been hooked ever since.

    • Ah, I’m a little envious. I could have, but somehow I missed them. I think I might have been a little embarrassed to go to the counter with a comic that had half naked women on it. Heaven forbid that some clerk think that I might find half naked women of interest.

      I came at the whole thing backwards. First Harold Lamb, then Robert E. Howard historicals, then some other Howard stuff, then Conan, and the whole rest of the catalog… and finally to Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword.

  2. hmm. I have the first four volumes. I haven’t had time to read them yet. I read the first couple stories of volume 1 and thought they were great. I was going to stop with the first four but maybe i need to hunt down volumes 5 and 6…

    Its hard to figure out where the appropriate cut off would be without actually reading them.

  3. I know what you mean. And once I realized they were going out of print, I decided to snag a bunch, realizing that I could sell off those I didn’t like.

    5 is stuffed full of pastiche that on the whole doesn’t have the impact of the first four, although there are good bits. 6 has some inferior tales by other writers, along with 4 originals by Thomas, 3 of which are pretty good. One’s a direct sequel to “The Pool of the Black One.” I read one in the volume by Fleisher earlier today that actually wasn’t too bad, though Conan himself didn’t sound quite right.

    The volumes I called out above, though, ARE worth owning. At least 13-18. I haven’t read that much of the later Thomas, from 18-22, but I expect them to be pretty good. Few other pastiche writers seemed to get Conan as well, and I frequently enjoy Thomas’ original Conan stories. Your own mileage may vary, depending upon whether or not you like Conan yarns by others. I do — but they have to sound like Conan. It’s not enough that the art is good. For some, that’s all it takes. More power to ’em, but I have to have the story as well.

  4. What keeps me from buying the rest is the fact that i would probably only read them once. If i’m going to buy something, especially at MSRP i have to convince myself that i’ll read it more than once. It keeps me from filling up my house with stuff i won’t read.

    Well that and the fact that the Hoopla free digital library app has volumes 1-19. So if i really wanted to read it, i could on there.

    • Understood!

      I originally thought I wouldn’t be re-reading, until I sold off volume 3 and got to missing it. Now I’m keeping all but the ones that didn’t have any stories I cared for.

  5. Howard,
    Have had a string desire for Coban pirate tales… Seems like much if his career (as told by REH) as a pirate was off screen.
    Any if these collections particularly piratical?
    Still have a slew of SSOCs I bought at the local quicktrip after a brisk bike ride with friends in the mid 80s… Ssoc, candy bar and strawberry soda for a perfect summer afternoon!
    And despite what my parents said, that allowance money was NOT wasted!
    Mick

    • Hey Mick,

      The first one with substantial piratey action is volume 4, which adapts Carter and de Camp’s Conan the Buccaneer AND Howard’s “The Treasure of Tranicos” over multiple issues. Buccaneer isn’t entirely satisfying, but man, Buscema’s art is even better than usual, especially when it comes to depictions of the female form. There’s also another de Camp Conan pirate story in it that’s more Conanish.

      Volume 13 has one good single issue pirate story by Dixon and another by Yakata that I haven’t read.

      Volume 19 is CRAMMED with Roy Thomas penned interconnected pirate stories. Probably 2/3 of the book is a part of an interlinked pirate saga that actually ties into some of the stuff from Volume 4. AND it actually starts with a single issue (the final entry) in Volume 18.

      It seems to continue into Volume 20 with another long series of sea-going adventures, although I can’t tell for sure how much of that volume is him just sea traveling with pirates as opposed to actually doing pirate stuff, because I haven’t yet read it.

      My suggestion — Volume 19. If you love it you can snag Volume 18 to see how it starts and continue on into Volume 20. Although, again, Volume 4 does have some gorgeous work as well as an actual interconnected pirate tale written by REH himself…

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