The issue itself is just shy of 50 pages and features two articles: the aforementioned interview with Roy Thomas and an article that briefly looks at one of my favorite nostalgic items, fanzines; particularly, Fantasy Crossroads. Both features were entertaining and worth the price.
The Dark Man was started in 1990 by Rusty Burke (a name I am familiar with from several other Howard related sources). With the help of Necronomicon Press, Mr. Burke released the first issue. The particular issue in discussion here served as the 20th anniversary.
This posting turned out longer than I anticipated, so will be done in two parts. In the first part, I will look at the Roy Thomas interview.
"The Man Who Helped Conan: An Interview with Roy Thomas", by Jeffery Kahan. The interview itself was a phone interview and tape recorded. I will cherry pick a few highlights that I enjoyed (JK = Jeffery Kahan, RT = Roy Thomas, comments in Bold are mine):
JK: Where did [the interest in Conan as a comic book character] spring from?
RT: It was really thrust upon me by the Marvel readership...we started getting a lot of letters...suggesting various things Marvel ought to buy the rights to...Marvel didn't generally license characters in those days...
Thomas goes on to say that Marvel mostly made up their own characters. This was before franchising was common. Conan, and all licensed properties, could have been ignored and Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith could have easily just made up their own barbarian character. If that had happened, things could have gone very differently for Conan.
RT: So we ended up having permission...to go after a Sword and Sorcery character...We figured Conan was probably out of our reach...[Stan Lee] preferred names like Kull and this other name I told him about, Thongor, which was Lin Carter's character...So we first went after Thongor. Lin Carter liked the idea of his characters being made into comics...but his agent did not like the $150 an issue that [Martin] Goodman had authorized me to offer for it.
Wow, Lin Carter really should have had a different agent. Just think, if his agent had accepted the offer, we could right now be Thongor-maniacs instead of Conan-maniacs! On a side note, Thongor did appear in Marvel comics, in Creatures on the Loose #22 (1973).
JK: Your collaboration with Barry Windsor-Smith remains a bit of a mystery. In his official online biography, he states that he drew the pictures and then added some dialogue in the borders and that you then added filler.
I love that word "filler" as stated by Mr. Kahan. It infers that Thomas didn't do much of anything and that Windsor-Smith did it all.
RT: I'm not saying that Barry is totally wrong. He tends to exaggerate--as we all tend to do, I suppose--his part of things, I assume quite sincerely, but he is still wrong.
Thomas goes on to politely refute Windsor-Smith, and does so without "calling him out"; however, some of my favorite Conan comics are the Thomas/Windsor-Smith collaborations. I like most of the Thomas issues with artists other than BWS, but those with him remain my favorites and are, in my opinion, superior to most other Conan collaborations. I wonder just how much was due to BWS and not RT? Thomas also points out, and I'm paraphrasing here, that memory is a tricky thing; therefore, Windsor-Smith might actually believe that he was the driving force behind Marvel's Conan the Barbarian. Mr. Thomas is exactly right. Memory is tricky and often events are different than how we remember them. With that in mind, how accurate is the memory of Roy Thomas?
Mr. Kahan asks him about a the various What If? appearances of Conan (vs. Captain America, vs. Wolverine, etc.). Thomas states that he was under constant pressure, mostly from Stan Lee, to bring in other characters from the Marvel Universe. At one point:
RT: [because] the book was doing poorly...we basically were told by Stan [Lee] that we were going to have to bring Thor in....It made more sense than a lot of characters...Barry and I toyed with the idea of Thor having a little more primitive version of his costume. The thing is, right about that time, the sales suddenly took a bounce...[and] Stan stopped the push to get us to use Thor.
The Conan fan in me is glad that Thomas worked hard to isolate my favorite barbarian from the rest of the Marvel U, What If? appearances aside (which I enjoy), it's hard to marvel at Conan's strength when he is going toe-to-toe with the Hulk. I think bringing in Thor would have killed the comic (it was done, years later in an issue of What If?). To bring in Thor would have essentially changed the comic Conan the Barbarian to Thor and the Barbarian. It may or may not, have put a serious dent in the popularity of Conan as a franchise; however, the Marvel Fan-Boy within really wants to know if Barry Windsor-Smith did any preliminary sketches of Thor wearing "a little more primitive version of his costume" possibly doing battle alongside Conan? If so, I'd love to see/own them.
Skipping ahead, Roy Thomas starts speaking of other actors considered for the role of Conan in 1982's Conan the Barbarian: Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone and Michael York.
I end with that, and a request. Could someone with art skills better than my own submit a rendition of A) Charles Bronson as Conan, B) Stallone as same and the one I really want, C) Michael York as my favorite barbarian. Please?