BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

CHRONICLES OF CONAN: TOWER OF THE ELEPHANT AND OTHER STORIES by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Roy Thomas Chronicles of Conan volume 01 cover

Roy Thomas was the second major writer at Marvel Comics, groomed by Stan Lee himself. But Thomas was also the first guy to bring Conan the Barbarian to comics. In fact, he was the one who named Conan “the Barbarian” instead of the Cimmerian as Robert E. Howard usually referred to his larger-than-life hero.

I remember reading the first Conan comic book, borrowed from a friend of mine named Ricky who was enthusiastic about it. I can’t remember if he’d read Conan’s newest paperback releases from Lancer or not before the comic came out. I knew I hadn’t.

Frankly, I was less than impressed with the story, and not happy at all with the astronaut floating in space in one of the panels. That took the story right out of the fantasy realm for me. I had recently read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Those books were fantasy to me.

Eventually, though, Conan became – and still is – a mainstay of my reading. I do remember Barry Windsor-Smith’s art, though. No one did stuff like Barry Windsor-Smith. That second page of the comic book that has the panel of Conan running with his horned helmet is one of those iconic images that will never leave me, and never fail to reduce me to a 12 year old boy again.

Roy Thomas Chronicles of Conan volume 01 page 01

Windsor-Smith’s use of small panels and Thomas’s tendency toward verbosity (often explaining in narrative what a reader can SEE in the panels) makes those issues often read like an illustrated manuscript rather than a comic book. I don’t know how Windsor-Smith did it, and I know there are artists who would run for the hills if this kind of work load was shoved at them.

Roy Thomas Chronicles of Conan volume 01 page 02

The stories kind of limp along in this collection because Thomas was still finding his feet as a storyteller in general, and hadn’t (by his own admission in the afterward) really known what he was doing with Conan. Or where he wanted to go.

The adaptation of Howard’s “Tower of the Elephant” is a story I always think of when I think of Conan. The story is just so heartfelt, and it’s weird to think of just how young both Howard and Thomas were when the first wrote the story and the second adapted it to comics.

Windsor-Smith (according to Thomas) was incredibly excited about the story. He did his best on the pages, and even got Thomas to stay off of some of them to let the story be told visually.

Roy Thomas Chronicles of Conan volume 01 page 03

Sitting and reading these first stories one after another does tend to show how repetitive the adventures are. At one point, Conan got canceled (for a day) because of low sales, but thankfully the series picked back up and allowed Thomas to continue writing literally hundreds of Conan tales for years.

Roy Thomas Chronicles of Conan volume 01 page 04

Barry Windsor-Smith was lost along the way, but John Buscema stepped in as the regular artist for years and gave Conan that iconic look so many comic book fans around the world know and love.

I’m looking forward to reading other volumes of the Conan the Barbarian series, called the Chronicles of Conan in these collections. I spent a lot of my formative youth reading the adventures of the barbarian hero, so I look forward to adventuring with him again.

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