In books, movies, television and comics, Conan has faced enemies of all shapes and sizes – but has he ever fought someone who just like him? In the upcoming one-shot Conan: The Weight of the Crown, Conan ventures outside the confines of his homeland of Cimmeria to discover a bandit-turned-ruler dubbed "The Mad King of Gaul" whose early years and attitude mirror Conan's in many ways. But when mercenaries with Conan see him as a more fitting successor than the King's own heir, these two figures are pitted head-to-head to see who will come out on top.
In this upcoming one-shot, well-known comic artist Darick Robertson pulls double-duty working on Conan while continuing The Boys, both writing and drawing this standalone adventure chronicling an early adventure for the Cimmerian. Robertson, whose found fame on all corners of the medium with superhero work on New Warriors and Wolverine, sci-fi work with Transmetropolitan, and satire with The Boys, started out in the industry in 1985 creating his own book, Space Beaver. While the anthromorphic tales of an intergalactic party animal seeking to take down a crime lord didn't go past eleven issues, it put him on the map for future successes at DC and Marvel. But now, Robertson comes full circle in his career, doing his first book which he writes and illustrates the story.
Scheduled for release on January 13th, this forty page one-shot takes place between the "Cimmera" and "Black Colossus" story arcs in the Conan the Cimmerian monthly series and is an ideal entry point into Dark Horse's line of Conan books. Newsarama spoke with Darick Robertson for more.
Newsarama: Let’s start with an easy one, Darick – what led you to doing a Conan book? You seem pretty busy with The Boys over at Dynamite and doing The Authority: The Lost Year over at DC/Wildstorm.
Darick Robertson: Awesome Conan editor, Philip Simon approached me last spring, and offered me the one shot. When he asked me who I wanted to work with as writer, I offered to do a proposal if he was open to it, so I could write it myself. He was very enthusiastic about it, and so I sent in my proposal!
Nrama: I want to get into the aspect of you returning to the writing side of comics, but first the comic itself. Set it up for us.
Robertson: Conan: The Weight of the Crown is a tale about Conan joining a rogue army that defends a beautiful valley called "Gaul” near the western border of Aquilonia. It’s prime real estate. Their leader is a former Aquilonian General who took a blow to the head with a mace and when he recovered, believed the Valley was rightfully his. He led a revolution, took it as his own, and declared it his kingdom. Rather than squabble and lose armies to this guy, Aquilonia basically called a truce and he now defends the passage from invaders that might make their way up to Aquilonia. Conan gets hired into his army as a mercenary. Being awesome at what he does, Conan gains clout amongst the people. When the “Mad King” unexpectedly dies in battle, the ‘wise’ men decide to go against the dead King's wishes and give the crown to Conan, so Conan will protect them, rather than the son who was rightfully supposed to inherit the crown. But Conan isn’t really prepared for the responsibility of being a leader. Conan's a warrior, a barbarian, and the story explores the consequences of the people’s cowardly choice.
Nrama: The title of this – “The Weight of the Crown” – sheds some light on the difficulty of being a ruler. How does Conan interact with the character the Mad King of Gaul in this book – from what I’ve read him and Conan are cut from the same cloth.
Robertson: "Mad King" Zauran is a character I see similar to Conan in that they are both great warriors. The Mad King's early days were spent like Conan's, with thieving, mercenary work and wandering.
But the Mad King really 'goes sane' in a lot of ways and saw his life as something more. They call him 'mad' because he chose to defy the monarchy in Aquilonia and carve out a life for himself and his family. Conan is not the family type. The Mad King fights for a future, Conan lives in the moment. But considering where Conan's fate leads him, Conan has leadership qualities in him, and that's what the mad King responds to. He sees him as a diamond in the rough and a kindred spirit.
I've done two 8 page stories for Dark Horse Presents Online that tell a little bit more of the Mad King's back story and shows him and Conan meeting.
Nrama: When I first heard about this, I was excited to see you writing and drawing – and inking for that matter.
Robertson: Thank you!
Nrama I’ve read your first book Space Beaver from back in the 80s, and I remember some superhero work you wrote – but not for a while. What led you to writing this?
Robertson: When I started my career with Space Beaver, not knowing that comic would even start a career, I was very ambitious and naive. As I became less naive, I became more insecure about my inking and writing. At 17, I wrote in a reactive way, sort of putting down a narrative of scenes I'd like to draw but not really understanding theme and plot. I'd grown up reading comics, so I knew what a comic should read and feel like and I created what was essentially an unintentional parody of a comic with Space Beaver. All the comics I read in the 70's and 80's seemed heavy handed in melodrama. As I got more seasoned I wanted to return to writing and I successfully sold a few stories to Marvel and created a character (Ripfire) for Malibu's Ultraverse, but circumstances usually derailed my projects and prevented me from doing much else. Those early failures lead me to believe I should just focus on my art and collaborations. But even with Transmetropolitan and The Boys in the beginning, I offered up ideas and wanted to participate in developing the characters.
When I left my exclusive at Marvel, I adamantly wanted to ink my own stuff. Wildstorm was fine with that, but that was a big incentive to co-create The Boys. I also had hopes of writing my own stuff within The Boys universe, but just doing the monthly book has been a time challenge. But I want to write more, if for nothing more than to improve, since everything I've done in my career I've learned by just doing it until I improve. So Philip Simon encouraging me to write this was a bit of him calling my bluff, as I wasn't really sure what I was going to write once I got the offer, but it's been a great experience and I want to do more.
Ultimately, there's a great feeling of satisfaction in creating something in its entirety from plot to finished art. The creators I really admire inspired me, such as Will Eisner and Frank Miller. These creators worked within the industry but outside of it as well. When Miller works on a character, he makes it his own, and I respect that. Miller was also brave enough to walk away from a situation if he wasn't happy there to create his own stories, his own way and leave behind mainstream characters that I'm sure they would have happily let him continue writing and drawing.
Nrama: Since your previous comics writing jobs, you’ve worked with an amazing list of writers from Warren Ellis to Garth Ennis. Has working with them strengthened your own writing chops?
Robertson: When I started working with guys like Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis, I felt humbled as a writer and still do, but reading years of excellent scripts taught me a lot. They are masters of getting a pace and a feel for dialogue that feels like you're listening when you're reading. Their plots are tight and concise and have a purpose to the direction of the story. I've learned from both of them when less is more.
Nrama: Although rooted in the prose words of Robert E. Howard, I remember him best from the movie. What’s Conan to you – the books, the movies, the comics... or *gulp* the television show from a few years back?
Robertson: I never saw the television show, but the Oliver Stone screenplay from the first movie really defined Conan for me back in the day. I always loved fantasy and barbarian stuff, and Heavy Metal in the early 80s, so as I started to develop my art and take myself seriously as an artist, I was inspired to do fantasy paintings and barbarian stuff.
Nrama: I definitely see some Frazetta bubbling up in your work. But since we're in comics, let's talk about the Conan comics; some big names have spent time on the Conan books – the big ones for me were Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema. Who are the big artists in the Conan mythology to you?
Robertson: I love those artists' work, but for me it was Frank Frazetta.
Nrama: Ah ha! I was right! [laughs]
Robertson: I dedicated this comic to him because it was his work and Boris Vallejo's fantasy art that I had up on my walls as a kid and that lead me to want so much to create this kind of art. As I've matured I really fell in love with Frazetta's work all over again. He drew from his imagination, using almost no photo reference and yet mastered dynamic anatomy. I also loved Richard Corben's Den. All my early stuff was swords and sorcery and voluptuous women. So getting to create my own story in this genre, with Conan, felt like I was coming home.
Nrama: As I mentioned when we first started, you did this project while simultaneous working on The Boys and the big The Authority: The Lost Year books. How do you fit it all in?
Robertson: With very little sleep. I'm just now coming out of a really busy year and want 2010 to be a year of focusing on The Boys again and creating new stuff with realistic deadlines.
Nrama: For several years now you’ve been exclusive to DC/Wildstorm with the one exception being The Boys.
Robertson: Well, I was exclusive to DC/Wildstorm when I co-created The Boys, actually. I went from 4 year exclusive to Marvel to 3 years exclusive with Dc/Wildstorm. Just last March I left my exclusivity for freelance, but continue to work with DC/Wildstorm.
Nrama: Now that you're a freelancer again, what does the future hold for you?
Robertson: Yes, a lot of why I had so much on my plate this past year was to fulfill my contractual obligations and still keep The Boys monthly. Now that I'm freelance again, I am exploring more of what I'd like to do and looking more to create as much new stuff as I can.
Nrama: Back to Conan, now that you’ve put this book to bed and its due in stores shortly, do you have any more Conan stories in you?
Robertson: I do! I am outlining a mini series for Conan and hopefully I will get to work on that later next year. I felt a little sadness reaching the end of this project because I have been enjoying it so much, so I am doing some reading, research and I will hopefully be back in 2011 with another Conan story. Time will tell!