Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How I Got Into Fantasy

I got into D&D in late 1983, shortly before my 9th birthday. But I don't think my mother would have bothered to introduce me to the game, and I might not have taken to it so, if I was not already primed to like fantasy stories.

Details are hazy, and for all I know I could be forgetting or misrembering large swaths of relevant history. Hell, the story might be true but happened a couple years later - people do move more than once. But this is my best recollection right now, and it was definitely before my introduction to D&D.

The year was either 1979 or 1980. I was 4 - 5 years old. My brother had just been born and my parents' marriage was in the shitter. Soon, my father was out of the house. He found an apartment, and apparently the previous tenant had not cleaned out his belongings before leaving. Part of that stuff was a crate full of comics.

Savage Sword of Conan and Conan the Barbarian comics, to be exact.

They were in ratty condition. Many were without covers, but reading Black Colossus and A Witch Shall Be Born and Shadows in Zamboula and People of the Black Circle (and Worms of the Earth!!!) and Hawks Over Shem and Horror from the Red Tower had quite an effect on me at that tender age.

I guess I was lucky that my parents were so permissive, although at times I suppose it begged the question of their sanity. My father also took me to see the Conan the Barbarian movie when it came out in 1982 and (although he really regretted this one when Leanna Quigley started dancing...) Return of the Living Dead in 1984. My mother showed me Andy Warhol's Frankenstein soon after we got a VCR, so that would have been late 1986, early 1987. Who the hell shows that movie to a pre-teen? (Mom does!)

I'm not sure whether I was introduced to Elfquest before D&D, but I do know I started reading comic books early in 1983 (Justice League of America #216! Can't remember a damn thing about it except the cover!).

Afterwards, the floodgates were open. I attempted Lord of the Rings before age 10, and have been a bookreader ever since.

I will say that the current Dark Horse reprints of Savage Sword of Conan are both very awesome and acutely disappointing at the same time. Awesome because the stories they do reprint, especially the Howard adaptations, are just beautiful and savage and satisfying all these years later, even having reading the original Howard stories. Disappointing because many of the backup features, including the essays, are excellent works in their own right, and certainly a million times better than the adaptations of the shitty Conan the Liberator and the Andrew Offutt books.

Seriously, would you rather look at Barry Windsor-Smith's rendition of Worms of the Earth or 140 pages adapting Conan and the Sword of Skelos? The Valeria story (a Roy Thomas original) Island of Pirates' Doom (which ran in SSOC 73-74 and 76-79) is something I'd like to have again as well. I hope this is a rights issue and not a Dark Horse editorial decision to just feature the main stories.

But if you thought Vol 5 of the SSOC collection was a serious drop in quality from previous volumes (I do!), don't worry... better days are ahead. More Roy Thomas originals and less adaptations of substandard work.


  1. Conan was one of my earliest introductions to fantasy too! I remember a cover catching my eye at the corner drugstore, and two hours later realizing I had read the whole thing just standing there;) I don't even remember the title though. Instant fascination.

    I think my first "fantasy" novel was A Princess of Mars, which happened to be at the top of a stack of books my cousin gave me, left over from his college Science Fiction Literature Class. I also read the Hobbit around this time too, so it could be either one, I suppose.

  2. Black Colossus was the first Savage Sword of Conan issue I ever read, and also my first introduction to Robert E. Howard and sword & sorcery fiction. I recently started buying the Dark Horse reissues, and I can't read or look at them enough.

    Your article stirred up a lot of memories for me. Thanks!

  3. I had somewhat similar experiences with my parents exposing me to things that other parents wouldn't dream of showing to their kids at such a young age. I've often wondered if it was my parents being really cool or just not giving a shit. Both maybe.

  4. I had started reading comics a bit by age 11 when I found the Conan paperbacks on the spinracks at the public library. I found Hobbit and LoTR as well but Conan was my big early influence before. A year or two later, I heard about this new game D&D.

  5. Tolkien for me. First the LotR and then Silmarillion. Having read them all many times I started playing RPGs and reading REH and Leiber. Good times.