Arguably the most iconic sword and sorcery character in American comic books, Red Sonja has been an enduring fan favorite since her debut in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #23 (cover-dated February 1973). Created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith based on material by Conan creator and pulp writer Robert E. Howard, the character's early formative years also included significant contributions from artist Frank Thorne. There are a pair of early Frank Thorne Red Sonja pages in today's 2021 January 24-25 Sunday & Monday Comics, Animation, Video Games & Art Weekly Online Auction from Heritage Auctions — Marvel Feature #6 story page 15 original art (1976) and Red Sonja #2 story page 7 original art (1977).
About Red Sonja and her origins, Roy Thomas would later recall in the endnotes of The Chronicles of Conan Volume 4: The Song of Red Sonja and Other Stories that the character was inspired by his early research on Conan, "One of the articles reprinted in that book, which I had purchased for research and inspiration was Allan Howard's "Conan on Crusade," which dealt with REH's fiction set during the period of the Crusades and a bit later. In it, he devoted precisely one paragraph to "Shadow of the Vulture," but that was enough, for it ended with these two sentences:
Von Kalmbach alternately and sometimes simultaneously roisters and fights magnificently throughout in company with a red-headed Russian she-cat who would have made a fit companion for Conan. In fact, she might have been a bit too much for him.
"This character—unnamed by Allan Howard, for some reason—sounded as if she were begging to be brought into the Conan canon. So I quickly got in touch with Glenn Lord, literary agent for the REH estate, who sent me photocopies of "Shadow." Shadow of the Vulture was a Robert E. Howard short story originally published in the pulp The Magic Carpet Magazine, cover-dated January 1934. In the story, Red Sonya was the sister of the real-life historical figure, Roxelana:
Roxelana, also known as Hürrem Sultan (c. 1502-1558) began her political career as the favorite (haseki) concubine, and then wife, of Süleyman the Magnificent. She broke with Ottoman traditions and changed imperial norms on the status of women in the court. A woman of firsts, Roxelana was the first wife of a Sultan, the first enslaved court "favorite" to be manumitted, the first wife allowed to bear multiple sons, and the first to act as an advisor to the Sultan.
Hürrem's unique position in the imperial court made her an object of fascination beyond the Empire. Both she and her story—or rather, scandalous exaggerations of her story—were depicted in art and written about in pamphlets, plays, and musical works, including a symphony by Haydn. She was most frequently demonized as a sorceress with "boundless ambition." Her story was used to fuel Western European fears of powerful political women, while also depicting the Ottoman court as a type of "other:" a place where immorality thrived.
After her debut in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian comic, Red Sonja debuted as a solo series in the rebooted Marvel Feature title in 1975. Frank Thorne bowed in as the series artist in with Marvel Feature #2 and continued his work on the character when she received her own series later in 1975. Thorne's Red Sonja art has been the subject of several Art Edition hardcovers in recent years.
While I love original art edition volumes myself, for getting a sense of comics history, there's still nothing like holding some original artwork in your hands. There are a pair of early Frank Thorne Red Sonja pages in today's 2021 January 24-25 Sunday & Monday Comics, Animation, Video Games & Art Weekly Online Auction from Heritage Auctions — Marvel Feature #6 story page 15 original art (1976) and Red Sonja #2 story page 7 original art (1977).