by Paul M. Simmon
Originally released in hardcover format way back in 2007, and now nearly impossible to find, Conan the Phenomenon finally gets the trade paperback (TPB) treatment from Dark Horse for this fantastic collection and story of, well, the phenomenon that is Conan.
Created by Robert E. Howard (REH) in the early 1930s, Conan has since gone on to be one of the most recognizable pulp characters and, certainly, the best known out of all of REH’s creations. After his death in 1936, REH’s creation bounced around and eventually gained some traction with the release of REH collections and trade paperbacks, well before the movie that most of you know. It’s very interesting to see how the rights for Conan and REH’s creations moved around considering that REH had no children or brothers and sisters.
Conan the Phenomenon talks extensively about pastiches (an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period) from various other authors after REH’s death because of the limited amount of work he was able to do with Conan. The stance of REH purists versus pastiche work is an interesting one. What if somebody like L. Sprague de Camp didn’t take it upon himself to create more Conan books and stories after REH’s death? What if Marvel and Roy Thomas never had their long, successful run with the barbarian? Would Conan even be relevant today if new Conan stories weren’t written after 1936? It’s something worth looking at, for sure.
The original REH work is, of course, the best that you can find and it’s all stuff that I would highly recommend getting your hands on if you’re even vaguely familiar with Conan. I’m sure some of the pastiches are good and worth reading, like the old Lancer published series with the Frank Frazetta covers that most people are probably familiar with, but if you get the chance definitely pick up the original, unedited texts from the man himself.
The insight on Conan in this book is more than worth it, especially at only $19.99 in the TPB edition, but that’s not all you get. The art! Oh, the art! Tons of Frank Frazetta images and various other images of the Cimmerian throughout his long, long history are worth cover price alone. Not only that, but it covers the entire Marvel era, it covers the silver screen adventures with Arnold and even covers some of Dark Horse’s time with the Cimmerian. Lots of little facts that an average fan might not know, and all of it is interesting and, just in case you didn’t already understand it the first few times I said it, this is totally worth it. It’s oversized and spectacular.
The only drawback is that this was out in 2007 and there has been a lot of cool Conan stuff that has happened since then. Regardless of that fact, this is a must own for any Conan fan. Even if you’re simply curious about the brooding barbarian this is worth it (have I said it enough times yet for you to go to your shop and pick it up?). While you’re at it, check out the Dark Horse series starting with Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord. These are some of the better pastiches and probably some of my favorite comics featuring this timeless character.