Jim Theis “Conan the Barbarian” Comic Review in GRAFAN 9, 1971

Comics, Fanzines

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.

GRAFAN 9 cover

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

GRAFAN 9 inside cover

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.

GRAFAN 9 page 4

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.

GRAFAN 9 page 6

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.

GRAFAN 9 page 11

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

GRAFAN 9 page 12

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.”

GRAFAN 9 page 12

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…

GRAFAN 9 page 14

…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.

GRAFAN 9 back cover

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.

GRAFAN 9 is for sale as digital download pdf.

For more of GRAFAN, see also:
ATLANTIS 1 and GRAFAN 2-8 (1970-1971) / covers and content summaries
SON OF GRAFAN (SOG) (1971-1975) / select covers and content summaries
Club home: granfan.org

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GRAFAN #8, Feb. 1971, Denny O’Neil interview, Part 3

Comics, Fanzines

St. Louis comics fandom wraps up its 1970 interview with native son and DC comics writer O’Neil, weeks away from revamping Superman, Batman.

GRAFAN 8 cover

Rare fanzine: GRAFAN 8, February/March, 1971
[This issue is for sale as a digital download pdf.]
Publisher: Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis, Missouri
18 mimeograph pages + offset cover
Circulation: < 100 copies
Editor: Walt Jaschek
Cover by: Vaughn Bode
Main Feature: Part 3 of interview with DC writer Denny O’Neil by Len McFadden, Mike McFadden, Bob Schoenfeld, Bob Gale and Walt Jaschek
Additional features: Editorial, Fandom Report (member and meeting news), Miami-Con 1971 report by Steve Houska, letters from from Ralph Green, Tony Foster, Joe Caporale, Ruben Hayes
Interior art by: Joe Caporale, Tom Foster, Chester Gould, Steve Houska, Len Wein
Mimeograph production: Walt Stumper

In January, 1971, at the ripe young age of 15, I was putting finishing touches on the 8th issue of GRAFAN, the mimeograph fanzine newsletter of the Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis, the enthusiastic, young fan hub of this Midwestern city back in the day. The zine was, according to the indicia, “conjured every month with a little bit of luck… and magic.” All the issues included “Fandom Report,” a preview of upcoming meetings, TV airings and movies of interest, and minutes of previous meetings.

We were a tight and dedicated bunch of what we now call nerds (I say proudly,) and I really don’t know how I would have survived my teen-age years without this funny, supportive group of fellow fans and aspiring writers and artists.

The highlight of this issue was Part 3 our our round-table discussion with St. Louis native and ascendant DC Comics writer, Denny O’Neil (“Wonder Woman,” “Green Lantern,” “Justice League of America.”) The recorded and transcribed conversation took place in Bob Gale’s basement late in 1970, with questions from Bob Schoenfeld, Len McFadden, Mike McFadden, Bob and me. Most of these guys were in their late teens; Denny was in his late 20s. I was, as mentioned, 15. Imagine my thrill.

Here’s the first page of the interview, with a header designed by me right on the mimeograph stencil, and an opening cartoon by me, as well.

This part of the discussion was focused on comic book sales and the target audience. Is it spontaneous (“That looks interesting, I think I’ll buy it”) or uniform (“I will buy this every month no matter what.”)

GRAFAN: It seems to me that the company should either go to an all-spontaneous audience or a uniform audience. 

DENNY O’NEIL: Well, we’re not going to be able to go to a spontaneous audience for a number of reasons, among which are merchandising problems. We can’t put comic books out like they put TV Guide out, with point-of-purchase displays and that sort of thing. It seems to me, that our best hope is to try to build a solid audience; to do that it’s going to require some major upheavals. A lot of attitudes are going to have to be changed. The Academy of Comic Book Arts is in business to change the attitudes. First we have two change the attitudes of the readers— the public — toward comic books. For years comics have 

been synonymous with the most imbecilic entertainment. And we are going to have to change the attitudes of the publishers…

GRAFAN: And the editors…

DENNY O’NEIL: Well, no, you give the editors a good product, and they get turned on. Julie Schwartz is a fantastic man now… he’s bubbling and happy because he’s doing science fiction.

GRAFAN: Growing long hair, wearing beads…?

DENNY O’NEIL (smiling): Not quite like that.

Much of the discussion was about declining sales and the potential demise of comic books altogether.

GRAFAN: So you’re going to have a good time as the comic industry slides downhill, is that it?

DENNY O’NEIL: Well., that could be. We may be on a real Ragnarok trip. The end may be very soon. But I think there are things that can be done. A lot of bu­siness things–thing that should have been done ten years ago. But ten years ago, Superman was good for 750,000 co­pies and the money was just rolling in. I guess at that time they didn’t see any need to engage in what I feel are very simple basic business practices that would tend to build an audience am get the magazines displayed. Practices that would broaden the base of the operation, so that if you had a bad year with the comics, you don’t stop altogether. Well, obviously, [ownership by the] Kin­ney [Corporation] is good for that, so that’s at least one thing that has been done. 

And some of the discussion was prophetic: talk of new formats and distribution models that would take years to manifest.

GRAFAN: Is the Kinney Corporation significantly interested in DC Comics to really institute some revolutionary changes in distribution?

DENNY O’NEIL: Sure. They’ re talking about all sorts of things.

GRAFN: What sort of things?

DENNY O’NEIL: Oh, there is the package con­cept, the subscription concept, the bigger-magazine with higher-price concept, which would make comics more attractive to retailers. People are talking about paperback book formats, and even hard cover formats. A lot of things are being kicked around….

Here on the back page is an actual sketch of Dick Tracy by creator Chester Gould. It was an original I received in the mail from Mr. Gould after I sent him a fan letter. But of course it had to be traced onto the mimeograph stencil by someone. You guessed it: me.

Being “editor” was a role for multi-taskers!

To read this part of the Denny O’Neil interview:
GRAFAN 8 as digital download pdf
And to read the rest of the interview:
GRAFAN 6 as a digital download pdf
GRAFAN 7 as a digital download pdf

For more of GRAFAN, see also:
ATLANTIS 1 and GRAFAN 2-8 (1970-1971)
SON OF GRAFAN (1971-1975)
granfan.org

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GRAFAN #7, Jan, 1971, Denny O’Neil Interview, Part 2

Comics, Fanzines

In first issue under new editor Walt Jaschek, St. Louis fanzine GRAFAN continues in-depth, 1970 conversation with writer of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Justice League.

GRAFAN 7 cover

GRAFAN #7 is available as a digital download pdf.

Rare fanzine: GRAFAN 7, January, 1971
Publisher: Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis
16 mimeograph pages + offset cover
Circulation: < 100 copies
Editor: Walt Jaschek
Cover by: Steve Houska and Mike McFadden
Features: Editorial, Fandom Report (member and meeting news), book reviews
Main Feature: Part 2 of interview with DC writer Denny O’Neil by Len McFadden, Mike McFadden, Bob Schoenfeld, Bob Gale and Walt Jaschek
Mimeograph production: Walt Stumper

Covers and content lists for all 9 issues of GRAFAN (originally ATLANTIS.)

GRAFAN 7 page 3

50 years ago this month, at the unripe young age of 15, I was putting the finishing editorial touches on the 7th issue of the fanzine GRAFAN, “official propaganda organ” of the Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Lous. I inherited the Editor role with this issue from beloved, late founder Mike McFadden. Oh, how I remember being excited that this January, 1971 issue was to feature original cover art by Steve Houska; the second part of our in-depth, far-ranging interview with the late Denny O’Neil, superstar DC comics writer [see below;] and other fun fannish fodder. The mimeograph machine was running hot that cold Midwest winter.

GRAFAN 7, page 4

GRAFAN the organization was a St. Louis-based, comics-focused fan club, composed mostly of teens and young adults with passion for storytelling, writing, art and collecting. It met regularly in the homes of members and fostered creative collaborations of all kinds. One subset of members met on a dark, 1970 night in Bob (“Green Vomit”) Gale’s basement to interview a guest: DC Comics writer and St. Louis native Denny O’Neil on a brief return visit home. I was with Len McFadden, Mike McFadden, Bob Schoenfeld and Bob Gale for the long, recorded conversation with Denny. It was transcribed and ran across three issues. The second part ran here in issue #7.

GRAFAN 7, page 6

Here is an excerpt from the interview.

QUESTION: You’ve scripted all of The Creeper stories so far, right?

DENNY O’NEIL: All but the first one, in Showcase.

QUESTION: How did you like working with Steve Ditko?

DENNY: Yeah, sure is nice weather we’re having.

(Laughter)

DENNY: Oh, Steve is a very talented guy, but we disagree in every possible way to disagree, on politics, on morality. So after the second issue of The Creeper, I wasn’t working with Steve anymore, I was working through Dick Giordano. It was even worse for Steve Skeates, who looks like a hippy, and was doing Hawk & Dove with him. Ditko is very big on Ann Rand, and Mr. A really sums up his philosophy. He didn’t like — I think he didn’t like — The Creeper because we had the character sort of self-satirizing in the thought balloons. He made fun of himself, and it’s one of Ditko’s tenets that heroes have to be serious and straight. I don’t think he liked how we handled the character at all…

GRAFAN 7, page 7

Another section of the interview, from page 8:

Q. With National trying out these new Western titles, I don’t suppose there’s any chance they might revive Bat Lash?
Denny O’Neil: There is a chance! There’s no chance of it being feature in his own book; Bat Lash had the worst sales in the whole 30-some-odd-year history of National Periodical Publications. We’re targeting it for a back-up feature in one of Giordano’s books.
Q. Was Infantino as excited about Bat Lash as everyone else was?
Denny O’Neil: Oh, it was Infantino’s baby. He kept it alive three issues after the business office told him to stop publishing it.

Shortly after this interview, the same group of fans escorted Denny to St. Louis tv station KPLR-TV, where he was interviewed live on-air about his comic book work as we watched from the green room. Could there have been a bigger thrill for me, a 15-year-old comic book fan also fascinated with journalism TV production? No, of course not. But there was hardly time to take it all in. There was another issue of GRAFAN to put out…

To read this part of the Denny O’Neil interview:
GRAFAN 7 as a digital download pdf
And to read the rest of the interview:
GRAFAN 6 as a digital download pdf
GRAFAN 8 as digital download pdf

For more of GRAFAN, see also:
ATLANTIS 1 and GRAFAN 2-8 (1970-1971)
SON OF GRAFAN (1971-1975)
granfan.org

GRAFAN zine, 1970-71 | St. Louis Comics Fandom Remembered

Comics, Fanzines

Covers and content lists for ATLANTIS #1 and GRAFAN #2-9, 1970-71, “official propaganda organs” of the Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis.

I love the smell of mimeograph stencils in the morning.

Good thing, because as a teen-age fanzine writer and editor in 1970s St. Louis comics fandom, I smelled a lot of ’em.

And so did my pals and fellow members of the Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis, who co-created dozens of mimeo zines throughout the decade, bursting with news, reviews, articles and artwork, often accompanied by covers featuring sketches we begged from pro comics and science fiction artists at conventions.

GRAFAN, as the “graphic fantasy society” was known, was a well organized, fee-based club, with regular monthly meetings for years (in the basement of members’ parents’ homes,) and kept a fairly rigorous monthly schedule for its zine/newsletter, containing at very least minutes of meetings past and previews of meetings upcoming. “It is published every month,” the indicia of every issue said, “with a little bit of luck… and magic.”

The club was a warm community of nerds; I say that proudly as one then and now. It was a self-selected tribe of fast-frozen and long-held friendships among talented young people sharing enthusiasms, putting their still-forming work out there, and squinting together into adulthood and creative careers.

Some were “older” teens and even 20somethings – a few in college, a few in Grad School. Founding members in my memory, were brothers Len and Mike McFadden; Bob Schoenfeld (of “Gosh Wow”;) and Bob Gale (of “Green Vomit,” then later, “Back to the Future.”) Len and Bob were at the older end of that age range. But when I first joined the group, in 1969, I was 14 years old, and when I inherited the editor position of GRAFAN, its monthly zine, as of issue #6 in 1970, I was 15.

The regulars who leaned in to publication of GRAFAN and its follow-up zine SON OF GRAFAN were founders Len and Mike McFadden; Walter Stumper, Steve Houska, Jim Theis, Joe Caporale, Dev (Brock) Hanke, Paul Daly, Don Secrease, Larry Nolte, me, and others I’ll remember as soon as I’m done posting.

Here are the covers and overview of contents of ATLANTIS # 1 and GRAFAN #2-9. The name changed with issue #2 to align more closely with club name. (Better branding, I said back then, and still say now.)

Atlantis 1 cover

ATLANTIS 1

June, 1970
18 mimeograph pages + photo offset cover
Editor: Michael McFadden
Cover: Vaughn Bode
Features include:
Editorial
Fandom Report
Meeting minutes and news about next
Ozark-Con 5 flier
Zine reviews
Upcoming con listings

Grafan 2 cover

GRAFAN 2

July, 1970
6 mimeograph pages + photo offset cover
Editor: Michael McFadden
Cover: Mike Royer
Features include:
Editorial by Len McFadden
Fandom Report
Meeting minutes and news about next
Member survey

Grafan 3 cover

GRAFAN 3

August, 1970
4 mimeograph pages + photo offset cover
Editor: Michael McFadden
Cover: Larry Todd
Features include:
Editorial by Mike
Fandom Report
Meeting minutes and news about next

Grafan 4 cover

GRAFAN 4

September, 1970
6 mimeograph pages + photo offset cover
Editor: Michael McFadden
Cover: Joe Caporale and Mike
Features include:
Editorial by Mike
Fandom Report
Article on Ozark-Con 5 by Marsha Allen and Mike
Meeting minutes and news about next

Grafan 5 cover

GRAFAN 5

October, 1970
6 mimeograph pages + photo offset cover
Editor: Michael McFadden
Cover: Vaughn Bode
Features include:
Editorial by Mike
Fandom Report
Meeting minutes and news about next
Member survey

Grafan 6 cover

GRAFAN 6

GRAFAN 6 is available as an instant download pdf here.

November, 1970
16 pages + photo offset cover
Editor: Michael McFadden
Cover: Larry Todd
Features include:
Denny O’Neil interview, part 1
Editorial by Mike
Fandom Report
Meeting minutes and news about next
Book reviews by Len McFadden

Grafan 7 cover

GRAFAN 7

GRAFAN 7 is for sale as an instant download pdf.

January, 1971
A typo in this issue incorrectly lists date as January, 1970
16 mimeograph pages + photo offset cover
Editor: Walt Jaschek
Cover: Steve Houska and Mike McFadden
Features include:
Denny O’Neil interview, part 2
Editorial by Walt Jaschek
Fandom Report
Club Election Results
Book reviews by Len McFadden
Read more about GRAFAN 7

Grafan 8 cover

GRAFAN 8

GRAFAN 8 is for sale as an instant download pdf here.

February-March, 1971
18 mimeograph pages + mimeograph cover
Editor: Walt Jaschek
Cover: Vaughn Bode
Features include:
Denny O’Neil interview, part 3
Editorial by Walt Jaschek
MiamiCon 1971 Report by Steve Houska
Grafandom letter column:
Letters from Ralph Green, Tony Foster, Joe Caporale, Ruben Hayes
Read more about GRAFAN 8

GRAFAN 9 cover

GRAFAN 9

GRAFAN 9 is for sale as an instant download pdf here.

May, 1971
20 mimeograph pages + photo offset cover
Editor: Steve Houska
Cover: Larry Todd
Features include:
Fandom Report by Mike McFadden
Conan the Barbarian Comic Book Review by James Theis
Fredric Wertham Interview
Book Reviews by Dev Hanke
Comic strip by Vince Rhomberg
Granfandom ketter column:
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

Here’s more information about GRAFAN 9.

Longtime followers of fandom might recognize quite a few of these names. The late Editor Emeritus Mike McFadden went on to be a prominent comic book grader for CGC in Florida. The late writer Jim Theis became well-known in science-fiction fandom for his fiction, including the story “Eye of Argon” starring Grignr the Barbarian, originally published in another St. Louis mimeograph fanzine of the era, OSFAN. Bob Gale, who was part of the group who interviewed Denny O’Neil (issues #6, 7 and 8) became a Hollywood screenwriter and part architect of the “Back to the Future” franchise. As for me? Well, you’re on my site! Click around.

Len, Mike, Bob, Jim and other prominent figures in GRAFAN have since passed – see grafan.org for dates. It is to honor their memory I post these covers.

A robust follow-up zine, SON OF GRAFAN, would carry on from 1971 until years later; I shared editorship of that publication with Walt Stumpers and others. It, too, was packed with cool, mimeograph content. But that, son, is a story for Part 2.

Part 2: SOG / SON OF GRAFAN

SOG / SON OF GRAFAN cover collage. Photo by Walt Jaschek

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