Has anyone ever told you that you remind them of Conan? Probably not.
But for now-running Conan: Road of Kings artist Mike Hawthorne, his past does mirror the barbarians in some ways. Both are mercenaries, soldiers of fortune – albeit with Hawthorne it’s the comics world. Conan got his start in his homeland of Cimmeria, and Hawthorne got his with the creator-owned series Hysteria. From there he traveled the comics industry going from company to company and genre to genre, doing everything from romance, spy fiction, comedy, off-kilter sci-fi, military comics and superheroes. After his most recent work helping Rick Remender & Tony Moore on Fear Agent, Dark Horse enlisted the journeyman artist for an extended stay on Conan, one of the publisher’s signature characters.
The miniseries Conan: Road of Kings partners Hawthorne with legendary comics (and Conan) scribe Roy Thomas to take on the famous barbarian’s road to the throne he ominiously sits on at the end of each of the Conan flicks. This path to power is dubbed “The Road of Kings”, and Conan travels this Hyborian highway to find his destiny and take it as his own.
Newsarama: How did this opportunity to do Conan with Dark Horse come about, Mike?
Mike Hawthorne: It was a bit of a surprise. I was drawing Fear Agent for editor Dave Land at Dark Horse, and all was going well, when out of the blue he asks if I'd like to try my hand at Conan. I honestly didn't see it coming, and was floored by the offer. One of my earliest introductions to comics were those old Conan illustrated magazines, so I was thrilled by the chance to draw Conan!
Nrama: How has it been drawing it so far?
Hawthorne: Tons of fun! Roy's fantastic at writing great characterization during action scenes, which is my favorite kind of comics to draw. I think you can learn more about a character by what he'll do in a fight, then what he'll say over a cup of ale.
Nrama: Can you tell us about some of the coolest things you've done, or see you'll be doing in the script?
Hawthorne: Honestly it's just a thrill to be drawing Conan himself. He's kind of like Batman in that he's open to artistic interpretation. It's fun to try and bring a fresh approach to the character, while still keeping the nature of the character authentic. That's the coolest!
But drawing Conan’s love interest, Olivia has been pretty cool too. [laughs[
Nrama: We can see that in the preview Dark Horse gave us! Tell us more about Olivia!
Hawthorne: I don't want to give too much away, but right now she's Conan's love interest and inadvertently she is what takes him back to the "Road of Kings".
Nrama: Speaking of roads, there's a real wealth of history with Conan, from the prose stories to the comics and the movies. What are you drawing from to get your take on Conan?
Hawthorne: At first, nothing at all. I just wanted to see what I would do without out referencing anyone directly. I was worried I'd "muddy the water", so to speak, if I started from a powerful reference point like Frank Frazetta, John Buscema, or Barry Windsor-Smith. So I drew him over and over trying to capture the essence of the character. Once I had an idea of what I wanted to do I went back and dug up every cool interpretation of Conan I could find; Frazetta especially. Doing that helped me flesh out how I would approach Conan: Road of Kings, and avoid any aping of another artist's approach.
Nrama: What do you think Conan boils down to – what are the essentials to you?
Hawthorne: I think, like most heroes, he has to have a certain appeal to him. Even if he's not the most handsome guy in the room, he's got to be the guy everyone wants to watch. He's the archetypal alpha-male. But if you leave it at that, then you end up with too shallow a character. That type of character can't hold anyone's attention for very long, especially mine. I couldn't see drawing a mindless muscle head for 12-plus issues. So you really have to try and constantly remind the reader, in my case visually, that he's still just a man. A man with weaknesses, faults and complexities.
Nrama: I've seen you really put different kinds of polish on your style for whatever book you're doing, from Hysteria to G.I. Joe, Machine Teen and the recent Fear Agent. What are you thinking about in terms of the look and feel of Conan: Road of Kings?
Hawthorne: I'm trying to give it a grand feel. Conan is such a monumental character that I want to try and set a stage worthy of him. I don't think it's good enough to just focus on this big, muscly guy as he hacks his way out of trouble. I think the world he inhabits has to feel like a large, wild and a worthy adversary for Conan.
Also, one of the things I find so interesting about Conan is that from the beginning of the story we know he was a great king, and all these tales we're reading are just the documentation of how he got to the throne. I don't want to obsess over the fact that he's a "barbarian", but rather show what it is about him that makes him stand apart from other men.
I mean, think about that. Conan doesn't just defeat monsters and villains, but this "barbarian" manages to beat class systems and societal restrictions by just being smarter and tougher everyone else. That's his magic. That's what makes him an interesting character to me. So I'm trying to not just draw a big, bad-ass barbarian, but rather a barbarian who has a certain something that will some day make him king.What do you think of Hawthorne's take on the big man?