After two years and 25 issues, this Wednesday February 19, 2014 will mark the end of Brian Wood’s Conan the Barbarian. Launched in February 2012, this maxiseries paired Wood and colorist Dave Stewart with a panoply of artists to adapt and expand on Robert E. Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast” prose story depicting his formative adventures at the side of the wanton pirate queen Bêlit. Over the past few months, Conan The Barbarian has told the final story of Bêlit in the arc “Song of Bêlit,” and now for this final issue Wood and Northlanders artist Leandro Fernandez come together to tell the swan song of this chapter in the Cimmerian’s life.
Newsarama has spoken with Wood on several occasions over the course of Conan The Barbarian, so it’s fitting we come together one last time on the eve of Wood’s finale. The New York-based author looks back at the two years spent in the Hyborian Age, doing an adaptation/elaboration on one of Howard’s original prose stories, passing the torch to Fred Van Lente for the upcoming Conan the Avenger as well as standing against the tide in presenting a side of Conan some fans forget: youthful, hopeful but still full of death.
Newsarama: I spoke with you on the eve of the launch of Conan the Barbarian back in 2012, and now we come to commemorate the final issue -- #25 – coming out on February 19th. How’s the ride been, Brian?
Brian Wood: It's been a great time, I've enjoyed it, and 25 issues is a solid run. I'm proud of it, and I'm happy to close it out and move on to new things.
Nrama: This entire run as been an adaptation/elaboration of Robert E. Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast” story; the last issue summed up the final moments of that original story, so what can readers expect in this final issue in February?
Wood: Well, the original story ending is fantastic, and in the context of a short prose story it’s a perfect ending. In the case of a 25-issue comic, one that hugely expanded on the relationship Conan had with Bêlit, we all felt we needed more to the ending that dealt with the, frankly, staggering emotional devastation he just went through. Also, after talking to Fred Van Lente, who is writing Conan after me, we figured out a way I could leave Conan that would help him when he starts. So #25 is a one-shot, sort of an epilogue, that shows a damaged man beating him up over losing everyone aboard the Tigress, drinking and fighting his way through opponent after opponent in some backwater ring.
Nrama: From the get-go you and Dark Horse were open to the fact that this was a finite series – 25 issues. That’s a rare thing in the world where ongoing series are ongoing until the wheels fall off, or miniseries that you can usually count on two hands. What’s it like – both at the beginning of this gig and now here on the other side – knowing it was 25 issues, nothing more, nothing less?
Wood: It's always nice to have a target to aim for and to know exactly where that target is. After working on DMZ, which was an open ended series and we didn't know it would end at 72 until we were well into the 60's, and while I think I ended that series well, I didn't have the ending until it was all almost over. Since then, I've made it a point to have that target ending defined... I think it makes writing it much easier. So with Conan, we had this finite ending, and since I was adapting an existing story, it was very cut and dried, in a good way. It was well-defined, and it allowed everyone to focus on the work.
Nrama: Can you talk about elaborating so much on a short story – taking it to 25 issues without stretching it too then, and while adding your own to the story?
Wood: It was a real challenge. Only issues 1-3 and 22-24 were adapted from the original. That left 19 issues requiring original material. Which, looking back, was trickier than I thought and I may have second-guessed myself more than I needed to, but on balance I'm proud of those stories, and I loved working with all those artists. But what was probably the hardest part of the adaptation process was turning what was entire chapters of prose, with no dialogue whatsoever, into comics. Even one silent issue of the comic would have been unacceptable to readers, much less three in a row. So even though it angers the Conan purists out there, I had to write in dialogue, narration, and additional scenes to actually make it work as a comic. I loved this, it’s the best sort of creative problem solving.
Nrama: Your work on Conan The Barbarian showed a side of Conan most people don’t pay attention to much; these foundational teenage/young adult years and the “torrential love affair” as you call it with Bêlit. Did you feel anything fighting that tide of how people thought of Conan, and if so, did it change over the course of doing the book?
Wood: This version of Conan: younger, leaner, less seasoned, is not our invention. Its straight from the source material, but it never stopped the haters and the purists for attacking us for it. It’s true that this Conan is leaner in appearance, but jesus, he is still super ripped. He's not Mr. Universe-jacked, but you or I would still have to spend 10 years in a gym to get his body. But he was still called "skinny," a "girl," a "fag," a "barista" (still my favorite kneejerk insult). Its amazing some of the reactions to something so minor.
But reacting to it is ultimately a waste of time. What we did was consistent to the character; it was requested by both Dark Horse and the Conan people, so that's all that matters. We doubled previous Conan sales and ended our 25 issues with more readers than the title had previously, so it’s a net win all around. What we proved is there is a market for a Conan that's not a 1970's Savage Sword throwback.
Nrama: What did you learn from doing Conan The Barbarian?
Wood: How to adapt, first and foremost. Not to read the comments (which I already knew, but I learned it here), and not to be afraid of putting my mark on an existing property. As a result of Conan, I went into my X-Men and Star Wars gigs with a lot more confidence.
Nrama: Working with you on this final issue is Leandro Fernandez, whom you collaborated with on Northlanders. Why was he the right one to go with here, and what is he drawing in this issue?
Wood: Leo and I are always looking to work together, and he's always in the front of my mind of artists to call if things come up. Plus he had done one of the variant covers for #2 or #3, so he was on everyone's radar. I would have loved to work with him on an entire arc, but this is just what the schedule allowed.
Nrama: For most of this run on Conan The Barbarian you’ve worked with a number of previous collaborators, something you have a long tradition of. I would imagine that’s harder in the work-for-hire world where it’s a publisher and licensor making the call, but how has it been finding old friends to work with on this series?
Wood: Not hard at all. You can see with the exception of James Harren and one or two others, it’s all Northlanders alums. It was literally as easy as simply asking.
Nrama: Could you ever see yourself returning to write Conan another day, either to adapt another Robert E. Howard story or create something of your own with the character?
Wood: Yeah, I had pitched something else, but it didn't jive with some other plans the license holders had for Conan. I think it'll happen eventually, not sure when, though. They also know I'm ready to write a Sword Woman series, another Howard creation, I'm just waiting for the green light.
Nrama: Are there any final words you’d like to leave for fans regarding this culmination of Conan The Barbarian?
Wood: Just a thank you. One thing we've consistently heard from fans throughout the series is that this one was there first exposure to Conan. That's just great, it’s perfect, it’s the sort of accessibility we wanted with this book. So I appreciate everyone giving it a shot.