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Conan the Barbarian

Words by Jack Sanford
Art by Jack Sanford
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By Crom, Why Do I (still) Like Conan the Barbarian?


I have my cousin, Jon, to thank for introducing me to many of my life-long loves. Being six months older than me, he was always on the cutting edge of what was cool when we were budding teenagers. He schooled me in the ways of the foosball table. It was in his basement in Cape Cod that I first heard Queen's News of the World album. And he was the one who introduced me to the fantasy world of swords, maidens in distress, dragons, demons, and Conan the Barbarian.

Mind you, my apprenticeship in the ways of the warrior from Cimeria began in the late 1970s, back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was merely pumping iron and long before there was any talk (at least in the junior high hallways I roamed) of his staring in the title role of a Conan movie. I was reading Robert E. Howard novels, devouring Marvel's Savage Sword of Conan comic books, and trying my hand at writing and drawing my own sword and sorcery sagas (inspired, again, by my cousin).

Needless to say, when Conan the Barbarian hit the big screens in 1982, it was my instant favorite movie of all time. My friends indulged my fascination and unabashed fandom in hopes that I would eventually outgrow it or at least stop asking new acquaintances if they had seen the movie yet. It would prove to create many awkward moments for them throughout our high school years (and probably limited the number of dates I had).

Members of the Academy failed to see the potential of the movie when it was released (though Sandahl Bergman did win a Golden Globe Award). Perhaps the simple and profound script was lost on voters as they turned their attention to movies like Gandhi, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Tootsie. Still, who can resist such captivating and soul-stirring dialogue:

The Wizard: The gods are pleased with you; they will watch the battle.

Conan: Are they going to help?

The Wizard: No.

Conan: Well, then tell them to stay out of the way.

The scarcity of dialogue helped make the movie that much easier to commit to memory.

Some 30-plus years later, the allure of Conan and his warrior ways still hold me captive. When asked which movies I have seen multiple times and continue to watch to this day, Conan the Barbarian is still at the top of that list. While I no longer have movie posters and drawings pinned to my walls, I have replaced them with Instagram feeds and Facebook groups dedicated to the art and lore of Conan.

As an artist, I certainly appreciate the craft and skills others display while continuing to conjure an imaginary character from a distant realm. I think my Conan connection might lie on a more subconscious level. In the complex and technology-laden life of a modern marketer, the simplicity of carrying a sword, crushing your enemies, and riding off with pilfered treasures has a primal appeal. But when I take a visual journey to the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas, I am reminded of those formative and fun days spent with my cousin, with no cares in the world. It's a time machine disguised as a comic book. I am young again; and what's more fun than that?

So, I've traded swords for spreadsheets and computers for conquering hordes, but I can still hold my head defiantly high and proclaim that Conan the Barbarian is still my favorite movie. And to all the closet Conan fans out there, I raise a tankard of ale to you and proclaim, in the words of King Osric: "What daring! What outrageousness! What insolence! What arrogance!... I salute you." 

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