I had no idea who Robert Howard was. I had never seen the Conan the Barbarian movie. I had never read the Conan the Barbarian novels. But I loved that Cimmerian. Still do.
Have for 33 years.
You see, my father left us when I was five, and my mom had no time to get remarried because once we moved back to America from Holland) she worked seventy hours a week providing for me and my little brother. And if she worked as hard as two people, she loved us as much as five.
Still, with all of her hard work, and lavishing us with the kind of love that only a mother can, we fell on some hard times. She managed a gas station, and despite how much time she had to spend there, the pay was abysmal. When I became a teenager, I was able to help, but in those years in between we had to live in various hotels. Sometimes in our car.
Being 9 and going to school, and sleeping in an Oldsmobile may sound like hell on Earth, but my mom was a born and bred Brooklynite, tough as a stone. We had little worries. And we still got a couple of dollars a week for allowance—because, as she put it, “Life doesn’t have to end just because it puts its heels on you.” Another saving grace is that there was a comic shop nearby. I remember going in and BOOM, immediately, there he was. The Savage Sword of Conan. May. 1980. He was holding aloft some sort of head dress, along with a bloody sword. And the woman on the cover was covering her boobs!
If you Google The Savage Sword of Conan, you will learn that it's "a black-and-white magazine-format comic book series published beginning in 1974 by Curtis Magazines, an imprint of Marvel Comics, and then later by Marvel itself. Savage Sword of Conan starred Robert E. Howard's most famous creation, Conan the Barbarian, and has the distinction of being the longest-surviving title of the short-lived Curtis imprint..."
That, of course, is complete nonsense. It was magic. Nothing less. My mother saw the cover and laughed.
“It’s good to have a hero,” she said.
I just shrugged and said I didn’t consider Conan the Barbarian my hero.
But maybe he was. I began following Conan, and over the years gained enormous respect for the artists and writers who pulled me from that low and uncomfortable time in my life. Conan reinforced the lessons I’d learned from my mother about strength, honor, and tenacity. I highlighted many of those lessons in the books I write.
Over the years I watched Conan morph. He’s had enormous success, and with his latest release, a few setbacks. Conan the Barbarian is still out there. And his core is the same: Still stomping arse, getting drunk, and still rescuing women who have to cover their boobs.
And I watched my mom’s circumstances change. With the boyfriend she eventually fell in love with, she’d lived in million dollar homes and in rusted out vans—until her health, weakened by a lifetime of exhaustive work, finally failed her. She passed away this spring, but I know she’s still out there. And at her core she will always be the same. Tougher than any barbarian. Ever loving, ever caring.
And, by damn, my hero.