The name alone conjures the mental image of a sword-wielding
human behemoth who has become a classic icon of American
Many associate California Gov. and former actor Arnold
Schwarzenegger as the embodiment of Conan the Barbarian. But it was
comic book industry veteran and Calhoun County resident Roy Thomas
who originally wrote the series for Marvel Comics.
Thomas has recently undertaken a new venture – a 12-issue comic
book series, “Conan: Road of Kings,” published by Dark Horse
The project marks the 40th anniversary of the first “Conan”
comic book. Thomas said although he is writing the character using
different standards than when he first began, he has been given
“carte blanche” with the project.
“After (Dark Horse) took (‘Conan’) over, the publisher suggested
a year of comics,” Thomas said. “It is an episodic story, with the
first six issues being one story, about 120 pages or so.
“Why should that come to an end after 12 issues?”
Thomas said Conan, created by Robert Howard in the 1930s, was a
pulp-fiction hero who became more popular when the stories were
published in paperback in 1965 and 1966.
“The artwork was done by the same artist who had done art for
(Tarzan creator) Edgar Rice Burroughs,” Thomas said. “I collected
them because of the covers.
“I was associated with (Marvel Comics publisher) Stan Lee at the
time. Our readers were writing us and asking, ‘Why don’t you get
the rights to that?’ We didn’t do it at first because we thought it
would be too expensive.
“I was able to talk them into it because they liked the idea of
exposing the Conan character to a new audience. It worked out
Thomas, a Missouri native, began his career as an assistant to
Mort Weisinger, editor of the “Superman” series at DC Comics, in
1965. His body of work included writing for classic comic book hero
series, such as the “Justice League of America” and the “X-Men”
“Jack Kirby created the ‘Fantastic Four’ in 1961 with Stan Lee.
It was followed by ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘X-Men’ right before I got
there,” Thomas said. “These new heroes were a new breed. They were
noble but still human. They looked and talked like us.”
Thomas is still most recognized for the “Conan” series. Its
popularity led to the first movie based on the character, released
Although his original screenplay wasn’t used, the director used
Thomas’s co-written story for “Conan the Destroyer,” the 1984
sequel. The movies made Conan a household name.
“I wasn’t that wild about either movie. They were much less
faithful to the original story,” Thomas said. “I tried to be
faithful to the original Howard character.”
A resident of South Carolina since 1991, Thomas was
editor-in-chief at Marvel for two years. In 1974, he realized he
was not as interested in the business end as the creative work.
“I recall one meeting with a woman who sold ads for our comics,”
Thomas said. “She wanted to sell ads on the right hand side of
“I told her, ‘Do it if you can, but I will fight you to the
death on this.’ I said, ‘Six months later, when there is nothing
but ads, we will lose readers.'”
Comic books are now a niche market rather than aimed at a
general audience. Thomas said the average age for comic books is no
longer kids but adults in their 20s.
“In the past, comic books were a mass market that thrived in
dime and drug stores,” Thomas said. “In the 1990s, it collapsed due
to a speculative market.
“In the old days, we would cancel a series if it only sold a
couple of hundred thousand copies. Now they send up rockets if a
comic book produces those kinds of numbers.”
Now 70, Thomas isn’t slowing down. He still assists Lee with the
“Spider-Man” newspaper comic strip, as he has for the last decade.
He is also working on a book about Lee and exploring the
possibility of doing his own World War II superhero comic book.
“I’ve written several of them in the past and would like to do
that again,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to get people to invest money
to put out a comic book. We will get someone to do it.
“It keeps me out of the pool hall.”
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