Every comic collector must experience this same moment of clarity at some stage of their lives. For me it happened in the late 90s. The exact circumstances escape me, but at some point I was at a convention or a back issue shop and bought an old comic, only to return home and discover I already owned the comic I had just bought. Before it actually happened, this was an unimaginable occurrence. Throughout my adolescent and teen years, I had practically memorized every comic book I had; even as my collection had grown to the tens of thousands, I could never, ever fail to recall or misremember what I owned. I simply loved my comics too much for that to happen.
So at first I shrugged it off as an oddity—but then it happened again. And again. And again.
I was either losing my mind or perhaps my collection had grown too large for any human psyche (even one as extraordinary as my own) to completely and accurately recall.
Maybe, just maybe, it was a sign that I was beginning to lose my passion for comics.
As time went on, the weekly visits to the comic shop slowed down to once a month; then once every other month; then just a couple times a year. Currently, I buy virtually no new comics anymore. I heard the new Love & Rockets just came out, so maybe I’ll venture to Dewey’s Comic City next week to pick it up—it’s one of the few titles I still follow, but it only comes out like twice a year. If that. And occasionally I’ll buy some old comics if something inspires me to do so.
Such inspiration struck about two months back when I wrote my post on the career of Christopher Priest. At the end of that post, I mentioned that I was going to track down some of his old work on Conan, and I did. As it turned out, this amounted to a large number of issues, as Priest (then writing under the name Jim Owsley) had a lengthy run on the world’s most famous barbarian. On Conan the Barbarian, his run went from issue #172 (Jul. 1985) to #213 (Dec. 1988), plus annuals #8 and 10-12 (1983, 1985-1987). He also wrote King Conan, a.k.a. Conan the King, from the fiftieth issue (Jan. 1989) to the final issue, #55 (Nov. 1989).
I figured the easiest (and cheapest) way to catch up with this stuff was track down some trade paperbacks, assuming such reprints existed. Turns out Dark Horse reprinted everything when they still held the rights a few years back, so I found the twenty-third volume of their Chronicles of Conan series, Well of Souls and Other Stories, which reprinted Conan the Barbarian #174-181 & Annual #10. As predicted, I enjoyed it immensely. I also got the eleventh volume of their Chronicles of King Conan series, Nightmare and Other Stories, which reprinted Conan the King #51-55. This got me thinking about tracking down the Alan Zelenetz issues of Conan the King, since I had always heard good things about them but had never read them myself before. My plan was to buy these in addition to the remaining Conan trades that reprinted Priest’s classic work, of course.
Before making any more orders, however, I went into my long boxes to double check what issues of King Conan I may have already had. I knew my collection of back issues of this particular series was spotty, but I didn’t have such doubts about my stock of Conan the Barbarian… but as long as they were in the same box anyway, I figured I’d take a glance. Boy was I surprised.
I discovered I already owned the bulk of the Priest/Owsley run on Barbarian—issues 187 through 205, plus Annual #12. I had absolutely no recollection of when I had bought these issues or why. Whatever the case may have been, I had no more excuses. My failure to remember here was not due to lack of passion for the comics. No, it’s now clear that I’ve absolutely grown senile.
“Know, Oh Prince…”
One thing was certain: I had not bought these issues when they were published; I had to have bought them as back issues. After sleeping on it for a night or two, it started to come back to me that somewhere between ten, fifteen years ago I had gone on a binge trying to collect every appearance of Red Sonja and the Devourer of Souls, and that this was where these issues must have come from.
Still, how could I not remember I had them? It was 100% dumb luck that the TPB I’d bought had issues I was missing. Had I not checked my long box, I would’ve pissed away good money on trades reprinting comics I already owned. The teenaged me would be aghast at the very idea that this could ever happen to him/me.
But putting aside my compromised mental state, these are some wonderful stories. The Well trade picks up with Priest/Owsley’s third issue (#174), which sees Conan traveling with this lovely, teenage girl, Tetra. Without spoiling much, let me just say that mystical happenstance will eventually cause the girl to become a powerful enemy of the barbarian from Cimmeria.
This volume also reprints the 1986 Conan Annual (#10), a standalone story that won’t spoil anything else in the run, so I don’t feel as guilty about discussing it. Even so, for those who’d rather not know…
So there’s this monster at the bottom of a castle that Conan and friends just so happen to be laying siege to. Late in the story, Conan stumbles into this abyss in the castle dungeon and winds up in some kind of a pool… or so it appears.
The pool turning out to be the monster’s eye struck me as rather clever. The result of Conan’s stabbing the eye was predictable but great fun nonetheless. There are just a few issues to fill in now to have a complete run of Priest/Owsley’s tenure on the book. I would highly recommend it, but then I’m not sure the opinion of this senile, old comic collector is worth much these days.