Sword and sorcery and heroic fantasy comics

At first, this list was supposed to be more narrowly focused. I wanted to compile a list of comics in the sword and sorcery genre: low fantasy, pulpy in tone, and action-oriented. This style is, of course, best exemplified by the comic book adaptations of Conan. The huge popularity of Marvel Conan comics during the Bronze Age has spawned a slew of imitators and, for a time, established the figure of an underclothed barbarian warrior as the quintessential fantasy comic book hero.

However, the problem with researching sword and sorcery fiction on the web is that many well-meaning people are unaware that it’s a distinct genre with quite specific characteristics, and accordingly treat it simply as a synonym for any old faux-medieval fantasy. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that French-language sources tend to use a catch-all term of “l’heroïc fantasy”, which does not differentiate between proper Conanesque stuff and high fantasy narratives. And the Franco-Belgian bandes dessinées are not to be overlooked, since this tradition has produced some of the most remarkable fantasy works in the comics medium.

There is also the issue of changing trends and sensibilities. While classic sword and sorcery remains a niche with a devoted fan base, it must appear quaint and old-fashioned to the general public. The standards for what passes for “fantasy” in the popular eye were shaped by the shifting visibility of various large properties such as The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Dungeons & Dragons, and World of Warcraft. Since the waning of the “barbarian era,” fantasy comic books and graphic novels have drawn from a vast repertoire of tropes and conventions, frequently moving towards more epic, world-saving high fantasy storylines.

As a result, the following list can be best described as “sword-and-sorcery-centric”. It focuses on everyone’s favorite moody lone warriors putting themselves in violent and morally ambiguous situations, but many titles that would make genre purists squirm are also well-represented. Some of the included works are comedies or parodies, and several of the more recent items boldly blend different genres, often departing from the familiar medievalesque setting assumptions.

In any case, the list demonstrates how well the heroic fantasy genre is represented in the medium of sequential art, particularly if one is willing to venture into the territories of American Bronze Age comics and European graphic novels.

The list