Classic Covers: Frank Frazetta’s Lancer/Ace Conans

Second only to Robert E. Howard in importance in the development of the perception of Conan, Frank Frazetta’s explosively elemental take on the Cimmerian achieved instant cultural cache and has become the defining image not only of Howard’s most famous creation, but of the barbaric hinterlands of fantasy fiction itself. Frazetta’s frenzied depictions of havoc and battle, his iron-muscled killers taut with violent fury, his churning vistas of bodies in conflict beneath rust-red skies, presented a gritty, dynamic vision of the bloody world of sword-and-sorcery fiction — a graphical apotheosis for a sub-genre that was no longer tucked away in moldering pulps, but instead enthusiastically smashing through the doors of mass culture.

The long-running Conan series helmed by de Camp and Carter was the entry point for a generation of readers newly discovering the original tales of Robert E. Howard’s barbarian adventurer—along with a mixed bag of pastiche and repurposed stories from other Howard heroes.

Lancer launched the series in 1966 with Conan the Adventurer—and Frank Frazetta nuked the collective minds of fantasy fans with cover art as bold and visceral as the stories between its pages. Here was a scarred, brooding, dangerous Conan, the still center of a world of blood and fire who nonetheless seethes with potential explosive force. This image enshrined both subject and artist in the collective imagination, and rewrote not just the look of the Cimmerian, but the very face of fantasy itself.

Lancer published all but the final volume of the deCamp series prior to going out of business in 1974. Picked up and reissued by Prestige/Ace Books, the series remained in print until the late eighties—and the now-classic Frank Frazetta original eight Conan covers made a return for every reprint, this time taking up as much cover real estate as possible. The four volumes of the original Lancer series with cover art from John Duillo were replaced by new covers from Boris Vallejo.

Every illustrator since Frazetta who has taken up brush and pen to depict Conan and other Howard heroes has done so in dialog with the master himself, an artist whose visionary genius forever changed the landscape of our collective imaginations.

Author: billward

Share This Post On