Part of me, the overly-intellectual part that channels dime store (really, shouldn't that be dollar store now?) Freudianism, assumes my adolescent self was jazzed by the pictures' blatant power fantasy imagery. There's Conan with a nubile woman curled up, subserviently, at his feet. There he is, teeth exposed in a primal grimace with his arm around Thak's neck and a giant dagger raised up high. With sword and shield held high, he rides through his enemies, trampling them under hoof.
The main part of me, though, says "pshaw!" to all that. I like these covers because they're cool. Yeah, there's a bit of a power trip inherent in Frazetta's artwork. Conan's the biggest, baddest guy around and nothing can stand in his way for long. What's not to like?
And they're darkly gorgeous. You can smell the smoke, gore, and sweat seeping off these covers. These are some of the most viscerally exciting S&S artworks ever done, and I am forever grateful to Frazetta for creating them.
Thak and Conan, Conan and Thak. The young Conan rampaging on rampaging monkey-man. I've always felt bad for Thak. Some priest's dank dungeon shouldn't be his home, he should be running free in the wild, plucking bananas and wooing some monkey-woman.
Cool as this is, it always struck me it's too cold for Conan to go around pantsless. I don't demand verisimilitudinous perfection in S&S, far from in fact, but, dang, Conan's never struck me as too stupid to wear dress for the weather.
I think this is the most iconic Conan picture ever created. I can almost see his chest and shoulders heaving after just having killed all those creatures he's standing on. The swirling mists and skulls hovering behind over the flames are the forces still arrayed against him, but we know Conan will prevail.
I'm as indifferent to this picture as Conan is to the man he's throttling. That look on his face makes me thinks he's thinking back on his youth, or maybe remembering he's got to pick up milk after work.
Not the best, but the first one I saw. I first dug this out of one of my dad's legendary book boxes in the attic. I knew the name Conan, but nothing about him. Then I read "Red Nails," and was hooked for life. I assume this for "Beyond the Black River."
UPDATE: I love this one. We don't see Conan's face, because he's too busy facing off against the world, despite being manacled in place. But seriously, what's with the peanut gallery on the steps? Are they waiting to see who wins, for scraps? What? And that snake. Seriously, it took the time to slither through the Cimmerian's legs instead of just eating him? Seems a little unbelievable, if you ask me.
Looking at this picture with a critical eye it kinda stinks. What the heck is that Conan's wearing, a barbarian girdle? And why isn't his chest protected? Whatever. The horse, bucking and screaming as it smashes Conan's opponents is intense. I do really like the band of pink sunlight piercing the blue and black of the shadows.
Great cover for a poor book. The picture distills S&S to some of its essential salts: muscled barbarian, evil wizard, slimy, slithering monsters, and nubile damsel in distress. While I love the feeling of movement implied by the swinging censer, and bits of Conan's man-necklace, I also love it's the snapshot effect. Conan's in mid leap, one unseen foot balanced on the altar, his hands prepared to throttle the sorceror. The latter, arm outstretched is ready to swing downward, ripping open his helpless victims. Looking at all these together, this might be my new favorite.
There you go, some of the best and most influential S&S covers. I love that they are so unabashedly violent and masculine. There's no doubt what sorts of stories you're going to find behind those covers. Thank you, Messrs Howard and Frazetta (and De Camp, Carter, and what the heck, Nyberg, too).
The rest of the Ace Conan covers were done by Boris Vallejo. You can look them up on your own, because I don't like them and am not putting them up.