How do you skirt a restrictive comics code and make visual Conan stories with the requisite blood-pumping grittiness that is integral to Howard’s adventures? You make a magazine of course! Already popular in his initial comic book incarnation of Conan the Barbarian, Marvel introduced the more adult-oriented The Savage Sword of Conan in 1974, quickly achieving a wide circulation and, thanks to writer and editor Roy Thomas’ legendary first 60 issue run, eventual cult classic status. Savage Sword featured straight Howard adaptations, pastiche, and original stories, and included more than just Conan tales but adventures from other popular Howard characters such as Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and King Kull.
With black-and-white interior art from illustrators such as John Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, Alfredo Alcala, Neal Adams, Pablo Marcus, Dick Giordano, Al Milgrom, Jim Starlin, and Walter Simonson, Savage Sword was the playground of choice for darker art with a visceral edge. Covers by Earl Norem, Bob Larkin, Boris Vallejo, and Joe Jusko further distinguished the ‘magazine’ from your typical comic with a look much closer to the covers of the booming sword-and-sorcery paperback market best exemplified by the genre-defining work of Frank Frazetta.
The magazine format also meant even bigger covers—something the best art of The Savage Sword of Conan run utilized to its fullest. Here is just a sampling from Savage Sword’s first decade or so, but with a 21 year run in its initial incarnation and 235 issues in total, there is a great deal more to marvel at than what you see below.
Marvel’s reacquisition of the publishing rights to many REH characters in 2018 has ensured that classic Savage Sword material is once again being reprinted in omnibus editions—as well as initiating a run of all-new The Savage Sword of Conan comics beginning in 2019.