In “A Tale of Two Conans,” heroic fiction fan/student Jim Theis (“Eye of Argon”) casts a critical eye at Marvel Comics’ newly launched Robert E. Howard adaptation (1971.) Swords clash.
Rare fanzine: GRAFAN 9, May, 1971
GRAFAN 9 is for sale as digital download pdf.
Publisher: Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis, Missouri
18 mimeograph pages + wraparound cover
Circulation: < 100 copies
Editor: Steve Houska
Cover by: Larry Todd
Main feature: “A Tale of Two Conans,” a review of the new Marvel Comic “Conan the Barbarian” series
Additional features: Editorial, Fandom Report by Mike McFadden
Comic-related book reviews by Dev Hanke and Tom Zygmunt
Fredric Wertham interview by Len McFadden and Walt Jaschek
Letters from Dennis Rogers, Charles Spanier, Tim Seidler, Ed Spring, Tiny McClemmons
Poem by Ed Spring
Inside Back Cover by Joe Caporale
Back Cover by George Barr
Mimeograph production: Walt Stumper
I’m listed as “Editor Emeritus” on the inside cover of this, the 9th issue of GRAFAN, but I remember having a hand in much of it, especially the Fredric Wertham interview, and the presentation of Jim Theis’ Conan comic review. [See below.] The issue opens with an editorial by Mike McFadden, and a comprehensive “Fandom Report” on club meetings and other fan-related activities, including cons in other cities.
Page 6 begins a Fredric Wertham interview I had conducted by mail with questions submitted by Len McFadden and me. Dr. Wertham and I had earlier struck up a friendly correspondence when he subscribed to a previous fanzine I published; from that experience, a few paragraphs of my writing ended up in his subsequent book, The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication.
By page 9, we come to the main feature, the James Theis review of Marvel’s new Conan the Barbarian comic book series. The header illustration is by Mike McFadden, and the headline is by me. In 1971, 18-year-old Jim was a huge fan of Robert E. Howard, had read every piece of Conan content out there, had written his own heroic fiction (“Eye of Argon,” starring Grignr the Barbarian, published in another zine, OSFAN) and was the most qualified among us to address the potentials and pitfalls of the Roy Thomas/Barry Smith comic adaptation.
The review begins:
Recently comic books have acquired a new character who has no need for the isolated telephone booth or computerized lab: Robert E. Howard’s bloody barbarian – Conan – is here. However, many of Howard’s techniques are purely literary, and as such, are inapplicable to graphic story form. The comic book writer is necessarily limited to those aspected of a character which can be rendered both visually and literarily – he cannot really develop either quality completely. Therefore, Barry Smith and Roy Thomas are fared with the necessity of separating those unusable qualities from the usable. Here, unfortunately, they have fallen short.Jim Theis
Jim takes lengthy exception to the choices and execution of writer Roy Thomas, seeing the Marvel adaptation something other than the Conan readers came to know in the pulps and paperbacks.
Howard depicted Conan as the brooding savage. Conan seldom spoke, and when he did, it seemed incongruous with his character. Thomas’ Conan, however, babbles incessantly. I realize this is necessary, in part, to move the plot, yet Thomas could produce more coherent adaptations by moving his stories through the dialogue of other characters. Possibly, this action is nothing more than an attempt, conscious or unconscious, to transform Conan into a common superhero.
Speaking of superheroes, the review is interrupted by this full-page pin-up, penciller Mohow, inker Mike McFadden, reproduced in the glory of what was then known as the “electro-stencil.”
After this interlude, Jim has much more to say about the comic, including Barry Smith’s art, “which, unfortunately, illustrates towns with bright, colorful towers which reek of gaety and good cheer … Smith totally destroys the atmostphere.”
Then, after a recognition of the impact on this series of the restrictive Comics Code, making it “necessary for the artist and writer to improvise,” Jim comes to this conclusion.
Room still stands for the argument of whether or not Marvel’s free adaptations are legitimate and worthwhile. Certainly, they have been approved by such people as Glenn Lord. However, Lord, though the manager of the Howard estate, is not Robert E. Howard. Robert E. Howard created Conan, along with ab entire entire world, equipped with workable governments, racial strains, geographic features, etc., and did not give permission to any others to utilize their creations. Thusly, since Howard is no longer alive to give permission, I believe that his memory should be honored to the extent of accurate adaptations.Jim Theis
Followers of the Jim Theis story and his treatment post-mortem might find extra nuance in that sentiment.
The issue keeps going, including a robust letters column…
…and concludes with this delicate ballpoint convention sketch from the amazing George Barr, a science fiction and fantasy artist whose work has graced hundred of pulps, magazines, books and gaming kits.
I thought “A Tale of Two Conans” was a smart, informed review when it was published, and I still think so now. I squirm at the misspellings and typos – hard to know which was the work of 18-year-old Jim or us 17-year-old typists – but if a college freshman had cleaned this up and submitted it to an introductory English class, it would have gotten an “A.” Or maybe an “B+” It was also refreshing to read a critique that came from a less gushing “Make Mine Marvel” point of view than I was used to in comics fandom.
(By the way: Make Mine Marvel.)
This #9 was the last issue of GRAFAN. The weight of ever-increasing expectations for its expansion kept it from reaching issue #10; instead, a leaner (at first) SON OF GRAFAN (SOG) took its place for 40+ issues. By issue #13 of SOG, Jim returned to his Grignr the Barbarian character for the first part of a new novella.
And Conan got competition anew.
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