Monday, October 03, 2011

La Reina de la Costa Negra


Brunettes have more fun: Conan dyed his hair yellow and, much to his regret, suffered a serious status loss when he was relegated to Belit's sidekick.

It's ancient history: Marvel's Conan the Barbarian debuted with the October, 1970 issue.  For years it was thought to be the first ever Conan comic.

And then Fred Blosser wrote an article published in The Savage Sword of Conan #26 (January 1978) describing a Mexican comic called La Reina de la Costa Negra ("The Queen of the Black Coast") #15, dated 1965 and published by Ediciones Joma.  The comic was small, 5.25" x 7.5", and contained 32 black and white pages with colour covers.  Glenn Lord, literary agent for the Howard estate, said it was an unauthorized publication he knew nothing about.

Marvel's August 1970 house ad for the Conan the Barbarian comic, excellently written and drawn by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith.

"The Queen of the Black Coast" was an eerie Conan tale by Robert E. Howard published in the May 1934 issue of Weird Tales (with a cover by Margaret Brundage, which you can see here in an earlier post).  Conan, about 24 years old, commandeers a ship called the Argus and soon closes ranks with a feared pirate ship called the Tigress, manned by the Black Corsairs and led by a merciless warrior woman named Belit.  The crew of the Argus are slaughtered to the last man, except for Conan, who is making a shambles of the pirates.  Belit, a virtual goddess in the eyes of her mates, rescues Conan from certain doom and declares him king to her queen.  For the next 2 or 3 years (which takes place in a mere paragraph), Conan and Belit are the terrors of the sea, plundering merchant vessels and trading posts along the southern coast of what we know as Africa.

Then, in what is to be their last adventure together, they follow an inlet into a dark, tangled jungle where treasure lies buried amongst ancient ruins.  When the treasure is found, Conan steps forth to retrieve it, only to be halted by Belit.  She orders some of her Corsairs to fetch it, and they die horribly in a booby-trap.  Conan is perplexed by this unnecessary sacrifice, nor does Belit account for her actions.  Returning to the ship, they find their water casks have been broken open.  Conan takes 20 men with him to search for drinking water.  Suspecting that they are being followed, Conan orders the others to keep moving ahead while he deals with the situation.  Instead, he is rendered unconscious by the narcotic black lotus plants surrounding him.  When he awakes, he finds his team dead, ripped apart and half eaten.  He returns to the ship and finds that the rest of the crew have suffered the same fate.  And Belit, his lover, is dead, hanging above the deck, her noose a string of jewels.

With sword, bow, and a quiver of arrows Conan sets forth into the jungle, choosing a pyramid upon which to position himself for the final battle.  The battle comes in the form of enormous hyenas which he fells with arrows, and then a bat-winged ape.  Conan is overpowered by the terrible beast and separated from his sword.  Then, Belit's ghost appears momentarily, long enough to startle the ape, and in that brief instant Conan picks up his sword and cuts the thing in half.  At dawn, Conan sends the Tigress out to sea, driven by the wind-filled sails.  He sets it afire with a flaming arrow, Belit and treasure aboard.



Hugh Rankin's illustration for the climactic battle in Robert E. Howard's "Queen of the Black Coast", from Weird Tales, May 1934.

In The Savage Sword of Conan #44 (September 1979) an article by one Douglas Menville shed new light on the La Reina comic.  Menville had found a copy of La Reina #2 in a book store in 1968, and it was dated October 8, 1958.  He had contacted Marvel in 1970 to disabuse them of the notion that Conan the Barbarian was the first comic book adaptation of Howard's hero.  At the time, Roy Thomas didn't think this possible one-off was significant.  In 1974, Menville found another copy, #16 (December 16, 1965), and Thomas found copies of #3 and #4, and a Robert E. Howard fanzine editor had a xerox of #10.  Issues 2, 3 and 4 were dated October 8, 15 and 22, 1958, respectively, meaning it was a weekly comic.  But it must have had an erratic publishing history if #16 was dated December 8, 1965.  (Logically, the first issue should have been dated October 1, 1958.)

Belit was the star of the book, a blond Conan el Cimeriano her sidekick, and the Black Corsairs were replaced by Vikings, their ship renamed the Venganza ("Vengeance").  Since Howard hadn't chronicled the 2 or 3 years of their piracy, Ediciones Joma, pirates themselves, had free rein to do so.  But #16 featured the other half of Howard's story, with the hyenas and winged ape, and grim and gory (and faithful to a point) as the comic is, Belit does not die.  Was #16 intended as the last issue?  Not according to The Last Celt (1976) by Glenn Lord, an indispensable (if now woefully outdated) Howard biography/bibliography, which estimated that "at least 45 issues" were published during 1965 and 1966.

The 2nd series, from E.M.A., swiped a lot of great Joe Kubert art from his "Viking Prince" stories in DC's The Brave and the Bold, published at the same time during the late 1950s.  Ironically, this cover, from Brave and the Bold #24 (July 1959), seems almost as if Kubert swiped the cover from Cuentos de Abuelito #17!  (See below.)


As it turns out, the 1958 La Reina series, published by E.M.A. (Ediciones Mexicanas Asocidas), ran at least eleven issues.  Ediciones Joma, however, published their own series, starting with #1, dated August 25, 1965, and possibly ending with #53, dated August 24, 1966.

But there was still an earlier La Reina series published in 1952-53 by Ediciones C.E.M.S.A. (Corporacion Editorial Mexicana S.A.), which ran weekly.  The full title was Cuentos de Abuelito (roughly, "Grandpa's Stories") presents La Reina de la Costa Negra.  It was digest-sized, 4 1/2" x 5 3/4".  The first seven issues featured "Kun'ga, La Diosa de Oro" (The Golden Goddess).  Conan and Belit began appearing with issue #8, and starred in every issue up to #61, with the exceptions of issues 20, 22, 27, 29 and 31.  Those issues featured La Monje Loco ("The Mad Monk"), a ghoulish horror host with roots going back to the days of radio serials who presented tales of terror, often while playing the organ.  Belit and, occasionally, Conan were featured on the covers until #46.  Kun'ga began dominating some of the covers from #47-57, and then the two heroines had to share the covers of #58-61 with La Arana, a rip-off of the old pulp hero, The Spider.  There were no more La Reina stories after Cuentos de Abuelito #61, though that comic continued until #134 in the early 1960s.



Apparently it's hell on the artist to whip out a 36-page comic every week, so once in a while La Reina was replaced by La Monje Loco (The Mad Monk), who drooled over his organ and cackled as he presented his horrific tales.  Here's the cover for #31 (January 23, 1953).
But not to worry: this back cover ad promises more adventures of Conan and Belit every Monday.

Issues 10-12 of Cuentos adapted the latter part of Robert E. Howard's story, except that Belit survives to have more adventures.  Howard's yarn was retold with new art and writing in Joma's 1965-1966 La Reina series in issue #16, in which she again survives.  

Not much is known of the motley crew of Mexican pirates.  The first issue was written by Loa and Victor Rodriguez and drawn by Salvador Lavalle.  Riol de Man wrote other early issues, and, later, Raphael Silvaquiros, with covers by Hector Gutierrez, who signed his name "Hecky".  Other artists included J. Kstro and A. Ramirez.



Following are covers to the first series, Cuentos de Abuelito, published by Corporacion Editorial Mexicana S.A. (C.E.M.S.A.) in 1952/53:

Cuentos de Abuelito #8 (1952) presents La Reina de la Costa Negra, the first appearance of Robert E. Howard's Conan in comic book form.

Cuentos de Abuelito #10 (1952) presents La Reina de la Costa Negra.

Cuentos de Abuelito #12 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra


Cuentos de Abuelito #13 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #15 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #17 presents La Reyna de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #18 presents La Reyna de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #21 presents La Reyna de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #23 presents La Reyna de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #24 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #25 (Christmas issue, 1953)

Cuentos de Abuelito #26 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #28 presents La Reyna de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #33 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #35 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #36 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #37 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #38 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #39 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #41 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #41, back cover (featuring Belit)

Cuentos de Abuelito #42 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #43 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #45 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #46 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #47 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #48 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #49 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #50 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #51 presents La Reyna de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #52 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #53 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #54 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #55 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #56 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra (cover featuring Kun'ga only)

Cuentos de Abuelito #57 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #58 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra.  Featuring Conan on the cover, along with The Spider rip-off, La Arana.

Cuentos de Abuelito #59 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #60 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra

Cuentos de Abuelito #61 presents La Reina de la Costa Negra



Can't make out the number on this issue of Cuentos, either.  We'll let Conan and Belit do the making out.




Following are covers for the second series, La Reina de la Costa Negra, published by Ediciones Mexicanas Asocidas (E.M.A.) in 1958/59:

La Reina de la Costa Negra #2 (October 8, 1958)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #3 (October 15, 1958)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #11 (January 1959)


Following are covers for the third series, published by Ediciones Joma in 1965/66:

La Reina de la Costa Negra #2 (September 1, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #4 (September 15, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #6 (September 29, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #7 (October 6, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #8 (October 13, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #10 (October 27, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #11 (November 3, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #12 (November 10, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #13 (November 17, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #14 (November 24, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #15 (December 1, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #15, back cover

La Reina de la Costa Negra #16 (December 8, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #17 (December 15, 1965)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #18 (January 5, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #20 (January 5, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #22 (January 19, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #23 (January 26, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #24 (February 2, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #24, back cover

La Reina de la Costa Negra #25 (February 9, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #26 (February 16, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #27 (February 23, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #28 (March 2, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #29 (March 9, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #30 (March 16, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #31 (March 23, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #32 (March 30, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #33 (April 6, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #34 (April 13, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #35 (April 20, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #36 (April 27, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #37 (May 4, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #38 (May 11, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #39 (May 18, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #39, back cover

La Reina de la Costa Negra #40 (May 25, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #41 (June 1, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #42 (June 8, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #43 (June 15, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #44 (June 22)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #46 (July 6, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #47 (July 13, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #49 (July 27, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #50 (August 3, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #51 (August 10, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #52 (August 17, 1966)

La Reina de la Costa Negra #53 (August 24, 1966)