Friday, December 01, 2017

Guest Post | Groo vs Conan: A Hyborian Romp

By GW Thomas

December 1932: Conan the Cimmerian explodes onto the pages of Weird Tales in "The Phoenix on the Sword" by Robert E Howard. Not the first sword-and-sorcery tale (that was Howard's earlier Kull tale, "The Shadow Kingdom"), but "Phoenix" did begin a fantasy franchise that is still a hit today in novels, comics, and occasionally films and television.

Sergio Aragones was born just a little under five years later, in Spain. He rose to fame as a cartoonist in Mad Magazine, drawing all those little margin cartoons beginning in 1963. Mark Evanier (who will come in this story later) estimates that Sergio drew over 12,000 of them.

In May 1982, fifty years after Conan stepped onto the sword-and-sorcery stage, Groo the Wanderer appeared for the first time in the back pages of Destroyer Duck #1. This four-page battle scene between Groo and a four-armed dinosaur ninja goes badly for the princess whom Groo is attempting to save. The strip bears only Aragones name as he had yet to team up with writer Mark Evanier (see, told ya). This he would do for a back-up story in Starslayer #5 (November 1982). A five-pager this time, announcing the coming of Groo's own comic. And so it went. First Pacific Comics, then Marvel's Epic line, then Dark Horse. He is Groo "the Wanderer" after all.

In July 2014, we finally saw the stars align and the impossible happened. Conan, superstar of sword-and-sorcery, met Groo, super parody of same, in Groo vs. Conan, a four-part series. Begun in 2011, unavoidable delays due to back surgery kept the crossover from seeing print until 2014.

The plot is made up of three threads: first, that of the creators Sergio and Mark, who are trying to save a comic shop from being closed by a ruthless lawyer. Sergio ends up in the hospital and receives multiple medicinal shots, resulting in him running around the city in a hospital gown thinking he is Conan on a glorious adventure.

The second thread is Groo's, as he is hired to stop a protest around a bakery that is being closed by a ruthless vizier. When the townsfolk hear that Groo is coming, they cry that a terrible monster has come to kill them all.

The third thread is Conan's as he leaves his home to face the terrible monster Groo. The two meet and different versions of their meeting are told in taverns around the town. Meanwhile, back in Conan's village, his second in command Olaf takes over, having heard that Conan lost to Groo and is dead. All these threads rush together in what turns out to be a fairly predictable ending. Lawyer and vizier are defeated as Groo and Conan team up to fight a common enemy (what else would happen in a cross-over!). Poor Olaf when he finds out that Conan has not fallen in battle...

[NB: It turns out this wasn't the first time Sergio Aragones appeared as himself in a comic. In Jon Sable, Freelance #33 (Febuary 1986), Aragones is invited to draw the comic book version of BB Flemm's children's fantasy called "Cave of the Half-Pints," about leprechauns living in Central Park. Aragones appears alongside characters like Jon Sable and even ends up in a hot tub with his female agent.]

The final result of Groo versus Conan is a fun romp. The Aragones art is hilarious as always. To blend the more realistic Conan art of Tom Yeates must have been challenging, but the effect is good; something similar to Pete's Dragon animation from Disney back in the day. The jokes are fast and furious, with Evanier taking good-natured shots at hospitals, health care, the police, comic book fans, and best of all, at Sergio and Mark and their long working relationship. The sword-and-sorcery jokes were not as many as I would have liked, but after thirty-two years of Groo comics, what's left? Conan plays the straight man most often, with lines about how he must endure Groo's stupidity. Like so many actors faced with acting with a comedic maniac like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams, what do you do? Stand back and let them fly.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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