Sunday, January 11, 2009

Savage Tales #2: Conan, Red Nails, all for seventy-five cents!

I described about how I fell in love with the world of Conan the Cimmerian after buying that King-Size Annual.  I was surprised, when I started reading the regular Conan series, that Barry Smith no longer drew it.  The art was handled by John Buscema, who I also liked, but I wanted Barry Smith.  Would he ever return to Conan?  I only had a to wait a few months in 1973 to see this Marvel house ad…

savage tales 2 house ad

Whoa, big news!  I had heard fables and whispers about Savage Tales #1, which appeared two years earlier.  Apparently few people were able to buy it.  Savage Tales #2 was a very big deal indeed, as we read on the Bullpen Bulletins page…

savage tales 2, bullpen bulletins

If this did not stoke the fires enough to get us excited, there was Roy Thomas’ special editorial in Conan the Barbarian #30…

conan 30 roy thomas editorial

Note that in the editorial, Roy makes reference to a common occurrence in comics.  Whenever a popular artist leaves a series, no matter how good the replacement is, the readers always hate him and demand the previous guy come back.  John Buscema turned out to be very good indeed on Conan and drove sales to record heights.

I was on the lookout for Savage Tales #2 for at least a month, and then I saw this cover in the magazine section of The Book Cache in Anchorage, Alaska:

savage tales 2

Now there’s a remarkable thing about this cover.  It’s painted by John Buscema!  I think this may be the only painting he did for the Marvel magazines.  I thought I had read somewhere that John Romita had done a cover rough sketch and Buscema did the rest.  Now open up the cover and see the table of contents page…

Savage Tales 2 - frontispiece

This was done in the style of many Marvel magazines, with a nice illustration accompanying the contents listing.  The drawing of Conan on a moonlit night is wonderful, drawn by Pablo Marcos, who I already knew about from Tales of the Zombie.  Now let’s flip forward a few pages to see if Barry Smith is really in this issue…

Savage Tales - Red Nails intro

Oh.  My.  God.  Not only is Barry back, he’s better than ever.  The composition on this splash page is spectacular.  Smith’s detailed line work can be appreciated in full glory, without the four-color process muddying it up in any way.  I’ve seen Red Nails colored for both the Marvel Treasury and Dark Horse collected editions, but the color just seems to me to mess it up.  Red Nails must be appreciated in black and white, just like Citizen Kane or Manhattan.  The Red Nails logo and lettering are amazing.  Now as far as the story itself…

Savage Tales 2 - Conan slays a dragon

Better than most movie-blockbusters at the time.  The longer format of the magazine allowed Thomas and Smith to slow down the pacing and make the action more intense.  There’s a scene where Conan and Valeria are chased by a dragon.  Valeria stumbles and twists her ankle.  Conan carries her and runs, then when the dragon is almost upon them, hurls Valeria away, turns around and slices into that creature’s head.  Wow!  Each page of this story was worth drooling over.  The story had a kinky turn when Conan and Valeria stumble into a castle, where a witch has plans to make them human sacrifices.  And it was only part 1.  Part 2 would appear in Savage Tales #3.

When Red Nails took a break, there’s was still plenty more to read.  There was this Robert E. Howard poem, illustrated by Barry Smith.  These were reproduced from Smith’s pencils:

Savage Tales 2 - Howard poem

I don’t think I appreciated poetry until I read this.  You can judge it as a good or bad poem, but somehow Smith made poetry look cool.  I remember from this point on, wanting to explore more poetry from people like TS Elliott and Gary Snyder.  Robert E. Howard must have a been a man who suffered from depression, as he committed suicide shortly after his mother died.  The words in this poem sound very bleak, I think there is some indication here of his mental outlook.

Savage Tales 2 - Wrightson Kull

If Barry Smith wasn’t enough to set this issue on fire, there was an additional story featuring King Kull, drawn by Berni Wrightson!  It was a reprint, but I had missed it the first time it appeared in Creatures on the Loose #10.  Creatures on the Loose used to be called Tower of Shadows.  Wrightson originally drew a cover for the original title, but it had to be replaced when the title was changed.  Thomas reprinted the cover here.  It’s early Wrightson, but early Wrightson is better than most people today.  Later, Wrightson would join Barry Smith at “The Studio” where they would share space for their drawings/paintings.

Now let’s go to the end of Savage Tales #2, for the cherry on top of the cake…

Savage Tales 2 - next issue piece

Even the next issue teaser page was incredible!  I cannot get over how good this looks.  Perhaps it was an illustration that Smith did for something else and it was used here.  You can see here Marvel’s aggressive scheduling in effect, promising that the next issue would be available the end of September 1973.  Savage Tales #3 would not appear on newsstands until late February 1974.  The delay was well worth it, Red Nails was completed by Smith and turned out to be a masterpiece.

I cannot tell you how many times I read this issue as a kid!  So much entertainment, well worth the “six bits” I spent.  I have bought many different collections with Red Nails in it, but no edition is better than the original Savage Tales magazine.  Nuff said.


  1. Red Nails is one of the all-time greatest Marvel Conan stories. The story, the art, all incredible. I agree with you on BWS too. It was really an amazing visual story that more than holds up to the test of time. Thanks for bringing back the memories of this classic!


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