Tuesday, 2 June 2009


This post is a fond recollection of reunion with an old friend. A very old friend. A thief, a pirate, a warrior, a ravisher. A barbarian. His name is Conan.

The story starts in 1980, when I was a 2-year-old toddler, living with my family in the ground floor of a rented house in the neighbourhood of Behala in Calcutta. I was a bit precocious for my age; I learned to speak at 1, and was reading comics by 2. There was an elderly neighbour (I think his surname was Sarkar) who used to love me very much. I called him "Dadu" (Grandpa). He used to take me to the zoo, and buy me chocolates and comic books. During this time, there was a publishing house in Calcutta that used to print illegal and translated copies of some American b/w comics. Coincidentally, it was called Avik Chitra Katha. Among others, they had published two stories from the critically-acclaimed Marvel series called 'The Savage Sword Of Conan'. This being 1980, they weren't too keen on pushing the books by their original names (Conan or Arnold Schwarzenegger was not yet a household name in India), so they did the next best thing: they promoted the character as Tarzan! I admit, there was some logic in it; Conan, with his long black hair, his loincloth and his muscles, does indeed look like the big brother of Tarzan (and his sword the big brother of Tarzan's knife), but even then, since I was already acquainted with the Tarzan comics of Russ Manning thanks to 'Anandamela', something felt odd. The two stories brought out thus were named 'Tarzan-er Tolowar' (vols. 1 & 2) and 'Byaghro-Debota O Tarzan' (vols. 1 & 2). Needless to say, I had all the four books. But due to a lot of shifting in the ensuing 20 years, I lost two of them (the first volumes of each story). But I managed to hold on to the two second volumes, repaired by my father, tattered, age-weathered, but still complete. By the time we finally moved to our own house in Santoshpur in 1999, I was aware of the fact that these were Conan books. And I was determined to track down the originals, mainly because of John Buscema.

Let me digress a bit here, and talk about Buscema. He is one of the all-time greats of American comics, and, in the 1970s, was the flagship artist of Marvel Comics along with Jack Kirby. Although Buscema did a lot of superhero stuff, I have always thought of him as "the Conan artist". After my favourite fantasy artist Frank Frazetta completely reinvented the look of Conan with his stupendous painted covers for the Ace paperbacks, other artists picked up the cue, and fantasy art was never the same again. Among the illustrators who took to the new "blood-and-guts" look of barbarian art, Buscema towered above the others. He was not doing an occasional paperback cover like Frank, mind you; he was drawing Conan panel after panel, page after page, book after book, year after year. And he never faltered. He brought such an animal magnetism to the character of the barbarian that it leaped from the printed page and burned a hole in the reader's head (even when it was a poorly printed illegal copy and the reader was 2 years old). To me, Frazetta is god, but when it comes to Conan, I am a devotee of Buscema. Period.

Anyway, on to the story: I was determined to find out the original books, and ransacked all the comics book-shops of Calcutta year after year in my mission. No luck. Then, in 2001, I discovered the internet. And Google Image Search provided to be a boon. Even then, I simply could not find those pages, those panels anywhere. Then, a few months back, Crom smiled at me. As I was going through another routine "Conan + Buscema" search in Google, I got struck by lightning as I saw a page from 'Tarzan-er Tolowar' looking back at me. This is the image: http://www3.telus.net/rojay/BuscemaConan64p28.jpg and this is the website where I found it: http://rojaysoriginalart.com/comicart.htm

The site gave me the information that the page is from 'The Savage Sword Of Conan #64'. This was a discovery that was earth-shattering in its impact! With trembling fingers, I hunted Rapidshare for the CBR version of the said issue, and found it in no time. The download seemed to take ages, and when I finally opened the file and looked at those pages, I was on the verge of tears. Tears of joy. For there was the original story of 'Tarzan-er Tolowar', named 'Children Of Rhan', written by Bruce Jones, pencilled by John Buscema and inked by Ernie Chan. I was victorious! But there was one snag. I still had not found the other story.

But there was no stopping me now. Since Google Image Search didn't throw up any picture from 'Byaghro-Debota O Tarzan', I thought of another strategy. I remembered that there was a tiger called Sambara in that story, so I made a Google search with the keywords "Conan + Sambara". And Crom smiled once again. In a fan forum of comics, I happened to find a synopsis of the story, and also the fact that it was published in 'The Savage Sword Of Conan #62'. Rapidshare came to my help once again, and this time I found out that the name of the original story is 'Temple Of The Tiger', written by Michael Fleisher, and drawn by Buscema and Chan.

It was a reunion after almost three decades of constant torment, and a testament to my tenacity and wit (I hope this doesn't sound too self-serving). But I am happy now. I've found my barbarian friend back.

And here is a sample panel from 'Children Of Rhan', to give you an idea of the impact it had on my 2-year-old mind:

1 comment:

Toonfactory said...

Superb Post...I second you when you say "To me, Frazetta is god, but when it comes to Conan, I am a devotee of Buscema. Period."

Please share the rapidshare links too...Can't resist leching at the beautifully composed super energetic panels...

Thanks for sharing Avik...Write more often...will ya?