A famous general once asked a simple question: “What is best in life?”
And a simple man said “to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” One thing he forgot is a long life in comics.
After years of hiatus in the comic book form, Robert E. Howard’s Conan returned in 2004 thanks to Dark Horse Comics. In the first Dark Horse series Conan, the title covered the man’s earliest years on the battlefield. After fifty issues, it gave way to the current series Conan the Cimmerian, which documents an older Conan, operating as a mercenary in the savage world. But life can only last for so long, and with October’s twenty-fifth issue of Conan the Cimmerian the series will conclude, giving way for two miniseries, Road of Kings and Scarlet Citadel, and prime placement in the upcoming Savage Sword anthology. Although Conan the Cimmerian may be ending, Conan is going strong.
But those stories are for another time. With Conan the Cimmerian #23 on stands now and two more to go in the series and it’s final story-arc, we talked with creator Tim Truman. Truman has served as Conan’s principal writer in comics since 2006, and for the final story-arc of this storied series he turns to an original Howard story of the Cimmerian written back in the 1930s.
Newsarama: Tim, Conan the Cimmerian is nearing its climax after 25 issues. The closing arc, “Iron Shadows in the Moon,” began with last month’s twenty-second issue. Did you know when beginning this story-arc that this would be the end of the current Cimmerian series?
Tim Truman: I had a pretty good idea, yeah. The original Conan ongoing series dealt with Conan's younger adventures. Conan the Cimmerian centered around the next phase of his life as a mercenary. This last arc pretty much wraps up that era of his life and sets him on his way to his years as a pirate.
Nrama: What can you tell us about this story-arc, “Iron Shadows in the Moon”?
Truman: It's an adaptation of the great Robert E. Howard story, "Iron Shadows on the Moon." (We're using Howard's original title for the tale, by the way. For some reason, his editor at Weird Tales magazine changed the title to "Shadows in the Moonlight" when it was first published in the '30s.)The previous two arcs, "Kozaki" and "The Free Companions," were basically designed as a set-up for "Iron Shadows." In them, Conan became the leader of a roving army of out-of-work mercenaries. We saw the army wiped out at the Battle of the Ilbars River - an important, tragic event which REH mentioned in his original "Iron Shadows" short story. Conan is one of the last survivors of the battle. He's been wandering through the swamps, dreaming of finding Shah Amurath, the leader of the enemy force and avenging the Free Companions.
At the beginning of "Iron Shadows in the Moon," Conan's wish comes true. He finds Shah Amurath in the swamps and has his bloody revenge. However, as an unintended result of this, he gains a new traveling companion - a woman named Olivia, who was the Shah's slave.
To escape the Shah's patrols, Conan and Olivia find a boat and set out across the great inland sea, the Vilayet. They find a seemingly deserted island and decide to check it out, in hopes of finding water and food. However, they discover to their dismay there's a reason that the island is deserted. There's an eons-old curse upon the place.
It's a quintessential Conan tale - one of the true "blueprint" stories that Howard wrote which influenced the entire fantasy fiction genre.
Nrama: With the adaptation, do you find some room to make it your own and update it for modern storytelling sensibilities?
Truman: Yes. I didn't want to simply adapt it whole-cloth. I wanted to remain as faithful to it as possible, of course, but I also wanted to add an interesting new spin on the tale - one which would which hopefully amplify some of the more interesting, underlying aspects of Howard's original text. To do so, I made Olivia the narrator of the tale, so that we see the story - and Conan - through her eyes.
Nrama: In this book you have a group called the Red Brotherhood. I remember them being mentioned several times in Howard’s original tales, but they only just appeared in comics with your last arc. Can you tell us about them?
Truman: They are one of the two different pirate groups that Conan tangles with and later becomes affiliated with. The Brotherhood is a group cut from the Howard Pyle/Robert Lewis Stevenson mold, albeit in Hyborian Era trappings - fearsome cutthroats and freebooters, by the gods, plundering ships of the Inland Sea. In Howard's original "Iron Shadows," when they appear on the island, Howard intimates that Conan and the Brotherhood have met each other before and that there are buckets of bad blood between Conan and the Brotherhood's captain, Sergius. However, we never quite know why. So I laid some groundwork for that in our previous storylines, explaining why Conan knows so much about them and why the Cimmerian feels such hatred for them.Nrama: You mentioned the island Conan and Olivia escape to. What’s that like?
Truman: As I mentioned, it's a lush jungle island which thousands of years before was the home of an advanced, pre-humanoid race. This race ran afoul of a powerful, god-like being after they torture and mutilate being's son. This entity curses the island and its citizens for all eternity. Their city falls into ruin and is swallowed by the jungle. All that's left is a crumbling temple filled with strange, terrifying iron statues. Therein lies the tale...
Nrama: What’s it been like to do 25 issues of Conan the Cimmerian, which I believe is your second longest work after Grimjack and Scout?
Truman: Yep - since about 2006, all told, if you include some of the issues I drew.
Although I have far more than those 25 issues of Conan the Cimmerian under my belt. I wrote almost 20 issues of the previous Conan title as well, following Kurt Busiek's run, starting with issue #32. Quite a feat for an old ADHD'er like me. Except for a few exceptions, most of my career has centered around miniseries and special projects.I've loved working on the ongoing title. However, I'm really looking forward to concentrating on the Howard-related special projects and miniseries that Dark Horse and the Conan folks want me to do.
Nrama: For the majority of your run, you worked with Tomas Giorello. What’s it like to establish such a long-running collaboration?
Truman: It's been great. He's such a fantastic artist, and his storytelling and drawing skills only got better and better. All in all, we're a good team. I'm so glad he's going to be part of Conan: Scarlet Citadel.