Since ending his exclusive contract with DC Comics and bringing his acclaimed creator-owned series "Northlanders" and "DMZ" to a close, Brian Wood has taken up a remarkable slate of new projects, from his next indie epic "The Massive" with Kristian Donaldson at Dark Horse to tackling the mutant adventures of Marvel's "X-Men."
As the writer was first revealing his plan to strike a balance between creator- and company-owned projects, fans were surprised to find Wood taking up the reins of "Conan the Barbarian" along with frequent artistic collaborator Becky Cloonan. With one arc completed and a second, now illustrated by "B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth--The Long Death" artist James Harren, what has emerged is a fresh and stylistic take on Robert E. Howard's classic hero.
Comic Book Resources spoke with Wood about his thoughts on the series to date, the extreme fan reactions to "Conan," both favorable and not, and the slate of artists coming on to the title after Harren's arc is completed.
CBR News: With your first arc on "Conan the Barbarian" behind you, what can you tell us about your experiences with the book so far? Were there any aspects that surprised you, whether something in the book's creation or fans' reactions to the finished issues?
Brian Wood: The Conan fans are hardcore. So, so much more so than I ever would have guessed. They put X-Men fans to shame. That's been a little tricky, since the mandate that I, and the artists, were given was to do something different with Conan than was the norm up until now. We got, and still are getting, a bit of a beating up about it. Especially Becky Cloonan for the art. Quite a bit of the comments I've seen online are borderline homophobic, reasoning that anything less than an overdriven, scarred, grim-faced Conan is an effeminate, latte-sipping Conan. Remarkable. I'm glad I'm finding this out at this stage of my career, when my skin is much thicker. I would have lost my mind over this a half dozen years ago.
The other thing that was a surprise was how much I would take to both the material and also the process of adapting something. [I've] never done that before, and my experience in doing any sort of licensed work is almost nil. But it's fun, relatively easy (as easy as anything else, really), and so its been a pleasure. Dark Horse is great -- they were great in bringing me over from the ruins of my DC career and are great to work with, ongoing.
I hadn't seen the fan backlash -- as far as I could tell, critical response to the series has been great, and I know there's a lot of excitement about it in my local shop, as well. Have you seen any new interest in your creator-owned series, with a potentially new audience seeing your work together for the first time and seeking out more?
We'll find out, I guess, when "The Massive" ships next month.
One of the biggest myths in comics is this notion that working on a licensed book, whether it be a Big Two superhero title or something like "Conan," is that it sends all this attention and sales to the creator-owned/indie work. It just doesn't, at least not in any measurable way, and this is something I've done quite a bit of informal polling about, amongst my peers. It's possible it helps sales on the trade paperback side of things, which is harder to track, but ongoing monthly sales? The needle tends not to budge. That should never be the reason one takes on licensed work -- it'll only end in tears.
While there's always a bit of sex to "Conan," the Belit story is shaping up to be quite sexy, as well. How have you worked to build her into an alluring, enigmatic character, and not just another seductress/conquest for our hero?
"The Queen Of The Black Coast" is rife with sex, and not much of it is very vanilla. You barely have to scrape the surface to get to the subtext, which has heavy fetish and BDSM tones. I find it fascinating. Anyway, it's easy to look at the original novel and see why Belit is such a great character, and so it's easy to preserve that. Put briefly, there is really nothing Belit needs from Conan. She wants things, but needs nothing. I suspect Conan needs something from her, though, but doesn't know what just yet. All of which, put together, makes for an interestingly off-kilter relationship.
After the initial romance and alliance, how does their dynamic evolve?
It's constantly out to the test, and evolves accordingly. Just like anyone's relationship.
Becky's take on Conan, while still a figure of strength, is quite a bit more trim and streamlined than other interpretations, and it looks like this will continue as James Harren and other artists take up the art for the series. Why depart from the traditional, ultra-muscle physique?
It's in keeping with the source material, the "panther-like" physique Robert E Howard used to describe him. This was also something given to us at the start of the series, a mandate from on high to portray Conan this way. He's young in this story, in his early twenties, and there's no logical reason why he should look like a steroid case. He's still big, though, tall and muscular. James Harren made him much more ripped and defined, which is more a result of his drawing style vs. Becky's than anything else.
"The Argos Deception" began this month, where we see you teaming up with James Harren for an arc. What made him the right choice to step in for Becky?
James was not known to me before this, but Dark Horse had worked with him before so it was a suggestion that came from them. Why he's a good choice is obvious --I don't know how the hell he drew the city scenes like that -- there's no reference material that I know of, so all that just came out of his head. Amazing. He also has a flair for action and battle scenes, which we'll see a lot of. It gives me goosebumps, some of those passages.
Coming up, we have Becky on art for #7, then Vasilis Lolos for #8-9 and Declan Shalvey for #10-12. This would seem to continue the indie sensibility you're building with Becky and James in the first two arcs, yet these are still very much "Conan" comics. How does the art complement or more fully bring out the new yet familiar Conan of your stories?
I'm responding to the artists' styles when I write these, in some cases asking the artists which of my story outlines they want to draw. In this middle section of the series (which runs through to issue 25), it's very episodic, built from small arcs that are fairly self-contained. We're working far enough in advance it allows me to customize the scripts to the artists. It's actually very "Northlanders"-esque, these artists, with the exception of James. We have another "Northlanders" alum coming in for the #16-18 arc.
"Conan the Barbarian" #4, part one of the "Argos Deception" arc illustrated by James Harren, is in stores now.