Wednesday, February 28, 2024

50 years of Savage Sword of Conan, and beyond

Ahh, no. 29, I love you. Love them all...
Savage Sword of Conan debuted August 1974. 

I was just one year old. Probably a little young to be reading this great old magazine. But looking back, I love the thought that when I was born, it existed. Imagine a not yet two-year -old me toddling over and placing a chubby hand on Conan nailed to the tree of death, a grinning skull leering in the distance. Boris Vallejo’s stunning artwork gracing the cover of issue #5, which I proudly own.

SSOC changed me. It was my gateway to Robert E. Howard, and to sword-and-sorcery. It introduced me to a darker, more brutal, savage, and sexy brand of fantasy than I was used to from the Chronicles of Prydain and The Hobbit, books I was first encountering around that same time. 

I might not be here blogging were it not for SSOC.

I’ve recounted this story a few times now. Here on the blog, in the foreword to Flame and Crimson, possibly on a podcast or two. But I still remember that initial shock upon finding a horde of back issues of the magazine circa 1984-85. Some of the fondest memories I have in my life are buying a couple at a time as I could afford them, bringing them home, leaning back in my second-hand split leather desk chair, putting my feet up on my desk. Sipping a cold Pepsi and eating a candy bar bought at a local drugstore. And getting utterly lost in the Hyborian Age. I was gripped in the potent spell of a necromancer.

As I write this essay an overflowing comic box sits to my left. The same ones I bought back in the mid-80s, with a couple issues added here and there over the years. One day I will probably finish my collection.

SSOC had it all. Great art of course, which goes without saying. Considerable diversity in its artists, but with some powerhouses to anchor the title, big names with which I’d become familiar—Adams, Vallejo, Norem, Buscema, Alcala, Chan. And others.

After the art, the terrific map of the Hyborian Age topped by an excerpt from the Nemedian Chronicles. Opening SSOC and seeing this splash page made it feel as though I was being guided into a lost world--perhaps due to the way it presented a lost text disclosing an even deeper layer of history (a layering technique J.R.R. Tolkien used in his works, to great effect). It felt real, lived in, once upon a time, impossibly dim and remote, but possibly our own, historical earth before the time when the oceans drank Atlantis.

Beyond that, SSOC featured stories about other Howardian characters, like Red Sonja or Solomon Kane (whom I did not know at all at the time). Beautiful art portfolios. Letters columns. Prose articles. I even loved the ads, pointing to treasures that I hoped I might one day acquire.

I just pulled out no. 29 at random (see above). And it’s just as awesome as I remember. 

Issue 29 TOC.

That map made me a child of sorcery...

Conan's Ladies... easy on the eye.

Holy balls that's some good artwork... Almuric at left (Tim Conrad)

I desperately wanted to participate.

Would they still honor these prices?

RIP John Verpoorten. I'd read every article, regardless of subject matter.

Swords and Scrolls... first letter by one Andrew J. Offutt. With praise for issue #24 and "Tower of the Elephant."

Listening to an interview with Jim Zub on The Rogues in the House podcast got me interested in subscribing to the new incarnation of the magazine, published by Titan. Which is a bit surprising, I suppose, as I’m no longer a comic book guy (or even an illustrated magazine guy). I’m not opposed to them by any means, but they’re just not in my wheelhouse anymore. 

But with the new SSOC the urge is deeper. It’s tapping into my nostalgia, sure, and that’s a potent vein. But it’s also akin to paying my respects. And seeing what new hands and minds might bring to this beloved old character.

OK, I did it. I ordered issue no. 1. It’s been so long since I bought a comic that I’ve never bought one online. I’m nearly certain the last SSOC I bought was issue 184 (April 1991), featuring “An All New Epic Adventure! Disciple!” I hadn’t yet graduated high school. There was no internet.

I thought I might be prompted to subscribe, but instead I purchased the issue as a standalone.

Here we go again.

Here’s to 50 years of this wonderful old magazine, and for what the future may yet bring.


Matthew said...

I enjoyed Titan's Savage Sword of Conan issue 1.

Jeff Shanks said...

Hope you dig it Brian!

Brian Murphy said...

Matthew: Glad to hear... I've been reading some good things.

Hey, thanks Jeff! Your essay is one the reasons I decided to go in. One of the things I liked most SSOC was it was more than just a comic with great stories, it was like a (light) S&S journal between the letters, essays, photo essays, etc. I hope that continues.

Anonymous said...

Child of Sorcery was a cool story, I am still slowly reading through these issues (currently on 70)

Brian Murphy said...

Anonymous: Nice! Do you have a complete collection, and any favorite issues or storylines so far?