I didn’t grow up a fan of fantasy, but I was vaguely aware of Conan the Barbarian. That’s because I grew up in Austin, where we have Conan’s Pizza. This very Austiny pizza place, which started in the ’70s, features a lot of Frank Frazetta-style Conan the Barbarian art in its decor. (Also Tomb Raider art, but that’s best saved for another post.) So, I growing up I was aware of the loin-clothed beefy man battling bad guys and holding onto ladies, if I was not exactly a fan.
Conan’s creator, Robert E. Howard, lived and wrote out of Cross Plains in West Texas. This little town (which I used to live by for five years) is famous for nothing but an oil boom and Conan. While initially Conan was “pulp”, he’s come to be seen as a much more important and interesting literary figure worthy of study. When I found out that Kurt Busiek, the comic writer who wrote two of my all-time favorite comics. If Busiek had a Conan run, I figured I should check out the character and the comics. I’m glad I did.
The Frost Giant’s Daughter includes material based directly off of Howard’s stories and also tells (I believe) new stories set in Conan’s early years. Concan is interesting enough, but it’s the world-building that I appreciated the most in this book. The fantasy world is lived in and ancient, due to both Busiek’s writing and Cary Nord’s gorgeous art. While much history is only hinted at, you sense it even if you don’t fully understand it. Various peoples have been warring for a very long time. Monsters lurk in the snow and beyond mountains. Towns are inviting respites and drink is necessity to unwind after a good fortnight’s raiding and pillaging. Magic and death and 90 percent of people wearing next to nothing all make sense somehow. It’s a fun escape.
This seems as good a place as any to get into fantasy comics. Gail Simone’s retelling of Red Sonja may be next.