Conan The Barbarian: Where Do I Start?

Many sword-wielding heroes have come to call the comics medium their home, but chief amongst them all is Conan. Although born in the world of prose stories created by Robert E. Howard in 1932, his immersion in comics in the '70s served to catapult the hero into the minds of the world-at-large, as well as the Schwarzenegger feature films. Through the early licensed stories at Marvel by the likes of Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema to the newspaper strip of the late '70s and '80s and into the modern era of Conan at Dark Horse, Conan has called comics his home.

But with the variety of books on Conan available both in new volumes and classic collections, it might be hard for someone to get their start with the Cimmerian hero. That’s where we come in. In this week’s edition of “Where Do I Start?”, we cover the four corners of the Conan stories with five sure-fire starting points to get to know the best that Conan has to offer.

Conan: The Tower Of the Elephant & Other Stories: This third volume from Kurt Busiek & Cary Nord’s storied run several years back shows them at the height of their tenure, and taking that to the Howard original “The Tower of the Elephant”. This story shows a young Conan facing off against an alien who by the end of the story becomes a sympathetic soul to an even more diabolical outside force.

The Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives Volume 2: Although one might think the first volume of any series is where the meat is, in this case you’d be mistaken. This second volume of the BWS-centric Conan stories contains an adaptation of the Howard story “Red Nails”, one of the greatest stories the writer ever created. BWS and scripter Roy Thomas took the story down a dark and brooding path that would have made Howard proud. And this book is more than just one story – any Conan story by Windsor-Smith is one worth having.

Conan: Born on the Battlefield: As close to an origin story as you’ll get, this tome by Busiek and artist Greg Ruth shows Conan’s birth on a Cimmerian battlefield and his coming-of-age as a warrior. If you enjoyed the first Conan movie, then this is an apt tale for you. The artist embodies some of the same muscle-honed savager of the classic Frazetta paintings of old, and Busiek really shows proof of his stature as Conan’s modern writer of record.

Conan: Song of the Dead: Arguably the least known out of the five titles highlighted today, but that doesn’t mean its something to forget. Comics veterans Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman cover a more jovial and camaraderie-driven Conan as he works across the land as a thief with little to no understanding of mystical forces in the shadows. Truman spares no detail in his bloody battle scenes, and Lansdale knows how to mix savagery with sly humor to tremendous effect.

Savage Sword of Conan Vol. 1: After the wild success of it’s Conan comics, Marvel ventured out and released the modern-day equivalent to Conan MAX with the mature readers series Savage Sword of Conan. Roy Thomas continued doing these original stories, and was joined by artists such as Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Jim Starlin and even Walter Simonson. These are primal and more savage tales than you’d expect from Marvel during the '70s, but given Conan’s history it’s apt.    


  1. I jumped into Conan with Road of Kings in December and had no problem figuring it out. Definitely an easy book to start at the beginning of any arc and some of the most fun you will have reading comics.

  2. Lots of great stuff. Conan is one of those great characters whose versatility has afforded him a longer shelf life than might be expected. Need a pirate story? Conan was a pirate. Need a general? Conan was a general for a while. King. Mercenary. Adventurer. He’s done it all, and his timeline is just murky enough to make it all work.

    (They pulled off the same trick with Wolverine.)

  3. Red Nails and “Tower of the Elephant” are personal favorites.

  4. Thomas/Buscema Conan books from the 70s and 80s are my favorite comics of all.

  5. The Busiek/Nord run at Dark Horse is easily my favorite. Especially that arc where Mignola guest writes.

  6. just get on…it is that simple by Crom!

  7. The first comics I ever read were the Savage Sword of Conan series. My Dad would bring them home to me so I have very fond memories of them.

  8. As long as you knwo the basic premise of Conan, I suggest starting on any of the current mini-series Dark Horse is putting out.  They very chronilogically so feel free to jump any anywhere.

  9. I have been reading Conan comics for a very long time. Since Marvel’s Conan series way back when. It was one of my first comic series I read (the other being Uncanny X-men). And Dark Horses Buisiek/Nord & Truman/Giorello runs are my absolute favorties.

  10. I would suggest starting with the old Howard stories. There’s a collection published by DelRay called “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian”.

  11. And what do we all think of the new Conan movie? Is everyone familiar? Word is that the new depiction is closer to Howard’s vision of Conan. If you look at Mark Schultz’s illustration of Conan (my avatar), I think Jason Momoa is a dead ringer.

  12. And fyi, if you’re looking for some great coverage of the Conan film, visit First Showing (i.e. He has done a play-by-play of all the content released for the upcoming flick. And he notes in a few posts the attention payed to the Howard stories. I’m pretty excited about this release, esp given the fact that most attention ayed to Conan via pop culture tends to mention Ahhnold.