Art Baltazar/DC Comics
Art Baltazar/DC Comics

10 Great Kids Comics for Early Readers

Art Baltazar/DC Comics
Art Baltazar/DC Comics

When a child is just learning to read, comics can be a great supplement to help foster love and enjoyment for books. As detailed in this wonderful handout, “Raising a Reader,”  from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, comics have a lot to offer young readers. For that crucial first stage of early reading (ages 5-8, grades K-2), though, it can be hard to find appropriate comic book reading material. Many parents will either disregard comic books as a reading option or assume that any old superhero comic will do. The appropriate range of choices for this specific age group and reading level is actually pretty narrow, but it contains some fabulous picks.

I’ve put together a list of 10 great choices to consider giving your early reader. I’ve tried to keep in mind both reading level and content appropriateness. Also, it should be noted that 98% of today’s superhero comics are written for a minimum age of at least 13. Both Marvel and DC publish a couple of choices for younger readers based off their animated TV shows, but even those tend to skew older than the reading level we’re talking about here.

1. Toon Books

Without a doubt, the best go-to option for parents looking for quality comics for early readers is the many graphic novels from Toon Books. Started in 2008 by comics power couple Françoise Mouly (art and comics editor for the New Yorker) and Art Spiegelman (creator of the literary comics masterpiece Maus), Toon Books is the only comics publisher that organizes their publications by reading level. For early readers they have a number of great offerings spread across two levels: Brand-new readers (ages 3+, grades K-1) and Emerging Readers (ages 4+, grades 1-2). They also publish books for later stages like grades 2-3 and beyond.

The best part about Toon Books is the quality of the creative talent that Mouly and Spiegelman have tapped. There are books in these early levels by outstanding cartoonists such as Lilli Carré, Renee French, and Rutu Modan, and children’s book award-winning contributions from Jeff Smith and Eleanor Davis. Most books come in hardcover and softcover format and are pretty readily available in bookstores, but you can browse them all on Toon-Books.com.

Difficulty: The best part about Toon Books is they clearly label each book according to grade level beginning at K-1 up to Grade 3+.
Content: Think of these as a bridge between reading picture books and reading comics. The varied offerings include lots of books about cute, anthropomorphic animals learning moral and educational lessons.
Where to start: You can’t go wrong with Eleanor Davis’ award-winning Stinky, about a monster who is afraid of people but learns that, once you meet them, they’re really not that scary.

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2. Owly

For early readers who are still trying to gain their confidence with the written word, there are comics like Andy Runton’s Owly that let the pictures do the talking. These cute, award-winning books are mostly wordless, sometimes using word balloons that contain pictures instead of words. This is a great way of getting new readers into the flow of reading—especially comics reading—without stumbling over word recognition. The stories usually center around friendship, loyalty, and nature and are charmingly innocent. While there may not be any words, Runton’s illustrations will give you and your little reader a lot to look at and talk about.

Difficulty: Since there are no words, even pre-readers can pick these up.
Content: These are very innocent stories, completely devoid of violence or adult themes.
Where to start: Runton is in the process of shifting to self-publishing the Owly books and you can learn about them on his website (he even has a lot of free PDFs you can download to sample). There is a pretty big library of Owly books that are readily available in most comic shops, bookstores, or Amazon.com. Why not start at Volume 1?

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3. Tiny Titans

Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani have made a name for themselves by creating all-ages superhero comics in their very recognizable kid-friendly style. They’ve applied this style to everything from their own creations like Patrick the Wolf Boy to “Itty Bitty” versions of horror comic characters like Hellboy and Vampirella. The book that put them on the map, though, is Tiny Titans which ran for 50 issues from 2008 until 2012, twice winning the comics industry's top award for Best Kids Series, and has been collected across 8 volumes of trade paperbacks.

Difficulty: The books consist of short stories—mostly 2-4 pages in length—and the storytelling relies a lot on visual gags so the word count is pretty low and non-intimidating.
Content: The stories are focused on elementary-school versions of many DC Comics characters (primarily those associated with the Teen Titans like Robin, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Aqualad) and it’s more about being in school than fighting criminals. Some of the jokes may require some familiarity with the DC Universe and other pop culture for kids to fully “get” them, though.
Where to start: You may be able to find some random back issues at certain comic shops, but since the series has ended, your best bet will be the trade paperback collections like Tiny Titans Vol. 1: Welcome to the Treehouse.

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4. Nursery Rhyme Comics/ Fairy Tale Comics

How can you go wrong with nursery rhymes and fairy tales? Especially when they’re drawn by some of the best cartoonists in the business? First Second Books and editor Chris Duffy had the brilliant idea of putting together two separate large collections (there are 50 nursery rhymes in one book and 17 fairy tales in the other) by a dream lineup of primarily indie-comic stars like Roz Chast, Gene Luen Yang, Mike Mignola, Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez, Emily Carroll, Raina Telgemeier, David Mazzuchelli, Eleanor Davis, Stan Sakai, and others.

Difficulty: As you might be able to surmise, the Nursery Rhyme collection skews a little younger, but both are perfect choices for this reading level.
Content: Kids will recognize most of the stories here, but they do mix things up with a couple of obscure selections in each. The fairy tales are certainly no more disturbing than any Grimm fairy tale you read when you were young.
Where to Start: Both books should be pretty easy to find wherever books are sold.

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5. Scooby Doo Team-Up

Unexpectedly, one of the most enjoyable kids comics to come out in recent years is Scooby-Doo Team-Up which, each month, has the Scooby Doo gang meet various DC Comics heroes as well as characters from classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons like the Flintstones and the Jetsons. Parents reading along will appreciate writer Sholly Fisch’s inside jokes in relation to these old shows.

Difficulty: The vocabulary should be within most early readers' ability. These are written a little more like a standard comic book than the previous entries on this list, with lots of word balloons and pages with many individual panels. This will pretty much be the case with the rest of the items on this list, but I point it out because navigating the architecture of some comic pages can be intimidating for some readers.
Content: These are fun stories and actually a better, kid-friendly introduction to superheroes like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman than you’ll find in 95% of all other superhero comics today.
Where to start: As of this writing, the 9th issue of the series was just released, so most comic book shops should at least have the recent issues in stock. You can start with any issue as they are mostly self-contained stories.

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6. Uncle Scrooge

Why not start them with the classics? Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge comics from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s are widely considered to be some of the greatest comics ever made. Unlike a lot of comics from that era, though, they hold up really well and will still get laughs out of kids today.

Difficulty: There is some complicated wordplay at times and the occasional old-fashioned jokes and plot line that may go over some kids' heads.
Content: At a certain point Barks—and later Don Rosa—began to tell stories with Scrooge McDuck and his nephews Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, that took on a globe-trotting bent with archeological digs and explorations of far-off cultures. These would inspire the popular Duck Tales animated series of the 1980s. Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s adventures may inspire a yearning for knowledge in your own little Junior Woodchucks.
Where to start: Fantagraphics has put out many collected volumes of the classic Uncle Scrooge comics. They generally run about $30 each but are beautifully put together. Most public libraries are bound to have an Uncle Scrooge book or two on their shelves if you want to sample them that way.

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7. Hilda

Luke Pearon’s Hilda series of graphic novels follows a young elementary-school-age girl who lives in a village called Trolberg, populated by talking birds, giants, black hounds, and, of course, trolls. Otherwise, her world is not much different from our own and Hilda is not much different from any other girl her age. She’s smart and sassy, lives alone with her mom, and loves animals. That realism amidst the fantasy world she exists in is what makes this series so enjoyable for kids (boys and girls alike). Pearson has a wonderful, European sensibility to his cartooning, which matches the vaguely Northern European setting of the stories and makes these books a delight to read.

Difficulty: The reading level shouldn’t be a problem for grades 1 and up and the page lengths (the first two books are 44 pages and the third is 64) are long but achievable.
Content: Very kid-friendly stories with nice life lessons, but they’re also thoughtful and sophisticated in a way that makes them rise above kiddie fare.
Where to start: The very first book, Hildafolk, is a 24-page comic, but Pearson has moved into a longer, more European-style graphic “album” format. He has released three book-length adventures so far and the most recent, Hilda and the Black Hound, is absolutely fantastic, with Pearson taking everything he’s built so far and making a nearly perfect all-ages comic.

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8. Ordinary People Can Change the World

Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos’ Ordinary People Can Change The World series of picture book/graphic novels about famous people who made a difference in history is an easy-to-read and fun way for a child to learn about important figures like Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, and even (in an upcoming volume) Lucille Ball. Both writer and artist are familiar names in the comics world. Meltzer is more famous as a novelist, but comic fans will know him as the writer of DC’s Identity Crisis, while Eliopoulos has illustrated a number of comics for kids like Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius.

Difficulty: There are some lengthy picture book-style text pieces in addition to the comic book-style word balloons, but it’s all written for a Kindergarten-and-up audience.
Content: I think some educators and sticklers for facts have questioned the validity of presenting biographies in this way, but it’s certainly a great way to get young kids interested in history.
Where to start: There are currently 5 stand-alone volumes (I am Abraham Lincoln, I am Amelia Earhart, I am Rosa Parks, I am Albert Einstein, and I am Jackie Robinson) that are readily available in the children’s section of most book stores.

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9. Abigail and the Snowman

Abigail and the Snowman is published by Boom! Studios and written and drawn by Roger Langridge (most recently known for his spectacular run on the Muppet Show comics). It’s a funny story about friendship in which a 9-year-old girl named Abigail moves to a new town with her single dad and struggles to make friends until she meets Claude, a Yeti who has escaped from a secret government lab and who only Abigail and the other kids at school can see. Kids of all ages – boys and girls alike – will get a kick out of Abigail and Claude’s friendship.

Difficulty: Langridge is masterful at character design and physical comedy and that really goes a long way in making this fun to read.
Content: There are some government agents chasing Claude but the danger here is not too scary.
Where to start: This is a four-issue limited series that is still in the midst of its run as this is being written. The fourth issue is yet to be released, but most bigger comic shops may still have the first three issues. If not, a trade paperback collection will surely be out in a couple of months.

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10. Anna & Froga

For kids who enjoy an odd sense of humor, Anouk Ricard’s delightfully weird graphic novel series Anna & Froga is an easy read that will earn some giggles. Each book contains a collection of short stories centered around a young girl named Anna and her animal friends—Froga the frog, Christopher the worm, Bubu the dog, and Ron the cat. Like any group of friends, they tend to bicker and tease each other while also accepting their idiosyncrasies. Ricard’s drawing style is fun and childlike, but her understated, sometimes testy dialogue among the friends is what makes this so fun.

Difficulty: This can be easily read by most new readers, but the sense of humor—the books are translated from French—may be too subtle and low-key for some kids.
Content: The friends do fun, innocent stuff like go to an amusement park, make their own movie, and take a trip to the lake, but there’s a healthy dose of sarcasm involved.
Where to Start: Drawn & Quarterly has published four volumes of Anna & Froga stories: Fore!, Thrills, Chills and Gooseberries, Want a Gumball?, and I Dunno, What Do You Want To Do? They all feature various self-contained stories so you can jump in anywhere.

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Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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