Throughout the 1970s and beyond, one of the foremost new genres in comics turned out to be sword and sorcery. Inspired by the paperback book sales of Conan and his ilk in the mid-1960s, Marvel licensed the character from the Robert E. Howard Estate. After a slow start, the series really took off in a big way, thanks to the erudite and literate writing of Roy Thomas and the beautiful and ever-developing artwork of Barry Windsor-Smith. Before long, Marvel was coming out with a whole horde of barbarian comics–Kull, Thongor, etc–and every other publisher in the field rushed to stake a claim to a portion of this new marketplace with Claw and Ironjaw and all sorts of other entries. But what was the first real sword and sorcery series in comic books? For that, we need to look back a bit further–two decades further.
In 1950, Avon Publications put out the first issue of a new fantasy anthology series, OUT OF THIS WORLD. In the back of that inaugural issue, writer Gardner Fox and artist John Giunta debuted their new creation, Crom the Barbarian. Crom, it seems, was the first.
Fox was an aficionado of pulp magazines, and so he was certainly aware of the Conan stories that Robert E. Howard had written for WEIRD TALES and its brethren. It’s undeniable that Fox took the name for his four-color barbarian creation from that of Conan’s dark, indifferent God.
Crom the Barbarian is a pretty bloodless affair. Possibly influenced by the Howard stories, Fox packs the pages with copy, but his prose isn’t as evocative or lyrical as Howard’s was. So it just makes the story a bit of a chore to get through. Almost every panel is choked with copy.
John Giunta, too, is a bit of a strange choice for a barbarian series, as his artwork is always very matter-of-fact, without the sense of high adventure and drama that the best barbarian artists would evidence across the decades. So Crom is akin to the Ikea Instructions of barbarian comics.
There was only this single issue of OUT OF THIS WORLD produced (although it was reprinted and reissued a second time later on by Avon Publications) so Crom sank like a stone and is scantly remembered today.