Philadelphia, PA – 1970s
I always loved comic books as a kid. I liked the artwork and the stories. Something that many people don’t know is that Marvel Comics were always written at a college reading level. So reading comics is a good thing.
I was never really into superhero comics because I just felt that those stories had been played out by the 1970s. I loved horror comics like The Unexpected, Tales from the Crypt, The Witching Hour, etc. The stories were always fun, and many had cool twists at the ends of them.
But my favorite comic series of all time was Conan the Barbarian. What I loved about the character is the same reason my father always loved Batman. He was just a regular guy. No superpowers. Just his strength and wits.
Whereas Batman was a millionaire playboy who donned a costume to fight crime with his cool car and gadgets, Conan solved most of his problems with a broad sword.
Here’s a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conan_the_Barbarian
Conan lived in a savage world, filled with other barbarians, crazy kings, wizards, scary monsters, and hot women.
I wasn’t good at sports and was kind of a nervous wimp as a kid. I would disappear into my fantasy world of comics for hours on end as I listened to my records. I liked Conan because he was buffed, brave, and nearly indestructible. He was constantly pitted against those who wanted to destroy him and rule the world. He solved pretty much every problem he faced with a swift swing of his broad sword. He didn’t even have a costume. Just a necklace, a pair of shorts, and sandals. That, and his trusty cutlass.
There’s only way to deal with the coils of the Man-Serpent!
Being a timid kid I wished I could solve my problems with the bullies and teachers in school in much the same way as Conan faced his adversaries. On top of all of that, Conan was always surrounded by attractive scantily clad women. What teenage boy wouldn’t want to be Conan the Barbarian? A kick-ass warrior and a chick magnet? Count me in!
All babes, that could kick ass side by side with Conan!
Conan was a beast and a ruffian, but he always had a soft spot in his hardened heart for the fairer sex. But I digress…
The series began in 1970 and were based on the stories by Robert E. Howard. So it was some hardcore sword and sorcery stuff originally written in the pulp paperbacks and now had been brought to life in the Marvel series.
The stories were amazing, filled with twists, turns crazy battle sequences, and loads of huge monsters of every kind imaginable. The writing was on point and I owned them all! But the best part of the series in the first 22 issues, was the incredible artwork by Barry Smith.
Other than Neal Adam’s Batman, and Johnny Romita’s Spiderman, Barry Smith was my favorite comic book artist. The way he drew Conan and the other characters made you feel like you were living back in that time and place. It really added to the realism of the stories from that period. Each panel on every page was like a little piece of artwork. If you get a chance, please look up the art of Barry Smith. Conan was the only comic he ever drew. It’s what made those first 22 issues so incredible. That coupled with the great stories made for an amazing storytelling experience. I’m going to look for a compendium of those early issues and read them all again!
Being an insane fan of the American hard rock band, Aerosmith I would listen to their music while I read the comics. I loved guitarist Joe Perry and guess who Barry Smith’s Conan looked like?
Yep… Joe Perry.
So it made me love them both even more!
I was a wimp and Conan and Joe were superheroes to me. They both had long black hair and rocked out the only way they knew how. Conan with his broad sword, and Joe with his guitar!
I would vanish into the music and stories in my bedroom and wished I could one day become one of these guys. I would sneak a little flashlight into my room at night and read the comics in bed. The trick was to place the flashlight in your armpit and then you could hold the comic while the light shown on the pages.
So Conan and my other comics helped me survive my adolescence.
1983 – California
I was working at Merlin McFly’s in Santa Monica as a cashier at the kitchen. I was the guy you came to if you wanted to order food at this magic-themed bar and grill.
I wrote about my experience there last year:
Anyway, I was standing there like any other night taking people’s food orders and just doing my thing. It was maybe around 7 pm and night when this tall gentleman walked up in a green polo shirt to place his food order. The first thing I noticed was his huge biceps.
“Can I get a Merlin McFly Burger and a Southwest salad?”
“Yes, Sir!” I nervously wrote down his order on a ticket to give to the cooks behind me. Thinking quickly, I reached for the only piece of paper I could find. It was a laundry receipt that was in a bag of freshly washed blue cloth napkins we used to line the baskets of fried appetizers.
Here’s the Packing List for 100 Blue Visa Napkins
I pushed a scrap of paper and pen toward this customer and spoke:
“I loved you as Conan the Barbarian, may I have your autograph?”
“What’s your name?”
The man begins to write my name and sign the paper.
“I spell Chaz with a Z!”
He makes a quick correction and slips the paper back to me.
“Thank you! We’ll call you when your food is ready, Sir!”
There he was, the living personification of my comic book hero. The actor and bodybuilder who brought my hero to the silver screen standing before me ordering a burger.
But at that moment I saw this guy:
Conan holding his “Problem Solver!”
It was such an exciting event to meet one of my heroes.
To be honest, I’ve never felt that any Conan the Barbarian films ever captured the true spirit of the early Marvel Comic books. Conan was never as popular as many of the beloved superhero characters that people adore today, but that never mattered to me. Conan will always live in my heart as a fond childhood memory that belongs to me.
Here’s the back of the slip with Arnold’s autograph!
Just think, back then I would never have guessed Arnold would become a character even more famous than Conan, (The Terminator) but also later become the governor of California!
On a final side note, my father once met his wife Maria Schriver in Atlantic City and got a chance to speak with her at an event. He told her how much I loved her super cool husband and his movies!
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