Josh Dysart's entrance into comics is the epitome of the self-publishing success story, and Dark Horse's "Conan and the Midnight God" originated as a project to reunite Dysart with Tone Rodriguez, his collaborator on "Violent Messiahs," the book that started it all. Though the lineup has now changed, with Will Conrad on pencils, Dysart is just as excited about his five-issue Conan mini-series, which he described to CBR News as Conan's mid-life Crisis.
Dysart's Conan story begins where Conan creator Robert E. Howard left off. At the end of Howard's final Conan story, the transient warrior had taken a wife and assumed the throne of Aquilonia. "He's king of an empire, there's already been several attempts on his throne," Dysart said. And the neighboring kingdoms are nothing if not wary of the so-called "war king." When Aquilonia's long-time enemy Stygia makes a political play and a personal attack on Conan, the restless barbarian does not take it lightly. "At that point, he basically amasses an army and marches to Stygia, which, if you look at the Hyborian map, brings up all kinds of interesting political implications. He's got to cross countries -- already Hyboria is in a very politically dodgy period -- and the notion of the warrior king marching a sweeping army across several of these countries is problematic. Now, he gets to the border in the beginning of issue #2, so after that it gets crazy."
There are numerous aspects of Howard's Conan's personality that Dysart believes have been lost in translation in some of the character's latter-day portrayals. "I do think that Howard's Conan is a lot more humane than you've seen virtually any other interpretation of him," Dysart said. "You see a lot of people write Conan as a slut, and actually Conan is an incredibly loyal character in the Howard books, and I do think that's lost. My Conan is not a womanizer." The character of Conan, who under Howard's direction was renowned for his sense of humor, has been so transformed that editorial wouldn't let Dysart's aged barbarian so much as crack a smile. "They wanted a very brooding Conan, which is cool, and so do I. But sometimes you gotta smile," the writer reasoned.
"Conan and the Midnight God" has its roots in a story Dysart wrote for a comic called "The Age of Conan," funded by Funcom, the company behind the Conan massively multiplayer online RPG. The piece was always meant to be a preface to the five-issue mini, and Dysart hoped to see the story reprinted in the trade paperback, but after the recent artist shuffle, whether or not the Funcom story will ever see the light of day again remains in question. Will Conrad supplanted artist Tone Rodriguez as penciller when the latter parted ways with the project. "In a perfect world, I'd like to see Will redo the preface," Dysart said.
Dysart, a self-ascribed fan of both Kurt Buseik's "Young Conan" and Tim Truman's work on the current ongoing "Conan" title, likens his latter-day Conan story to "The Dark Knight Returns." "Theoretically it's in continuity," Dysart said. "As long as Truman isn't on the book for the next 25 years, and he ends up writing Conan at 45."
Dysart admitted that the primary reason he elected to write about an older Conan was an obsession with his own mortality. "I know that one of the exact pitches I gave was, I sort of wanted to do Conan's mid-life crisis, I thought that would be interesting," Dysart said.
"As a kid, I read pretty much all of the Howard stuff, and retained as much as a young boy can," Dysart continued. Howard, who wrote the original Conan tales in the 1930s, was friends with legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft, and even penned several stories set in the Lovecraft universe. Lovecraft never returned the favor, however, and this was an oversight that Dysart sought to make right. "My three major influences in this book, the voices that I have in my head, are Howard of course, and then Lovecraft, and then Sam Peckinpah, the filmmaker. When you read ['Conan and the Midnight God'], it has the same sensibility to a certain degree that Lovecraft brought to it, with a little bit of Dysart mixed in."
Dysart had two words for aspiring comic writers: self publish. "I'm incredibly lazy by nature, and I don't know that I ever would have self published on my own," Dysart admitted. "But I had Jan Utstein, who was the editor of 'Violent Messiahs,' and her husband Bill O'Neill, and they really took the brunt of the work, and I was able to just be creative. But it was because of that partnership with those people that I have the career that I have today."
Dysart writes very detailed scripts, but concedes that they are "really just a suggestion. I'm just trying to communicate pacing and structure to the artist, so they can do whatever they want for the most part. And I'm really fortunate now I'm at a place in my career where I'm working with phenomenal artists and they often make me look better."
And Dysart's collaboration with Conrad is no exception. "He's kicking ass on the environments, which is really nice," Dysart said. "'Conan' needs a world-building artist to really make it work, and he's rocking that."
In addition to two as-yet-unannounced projects for Dark Horse and Vertigo, the prolific writer had churned out 200 pages in the two weeks prior to this interview on another project he couldn't talk too much about, a series of downloadable cell-phone comics to be released in the Japanese and Korean markets. A trade paperback collecting Dysart's run on Penny Farthing's "Captain Gravity" is due out in January, and the first issue of "Conan and the Midnight God" hits stands on January 3rd .