The Conan panel was a little bit different than the other events going on at the New York Comic Con, focusing on a more an informal discussion about the creative aspects of the series. Stunningly enough, the famous barbarian has quite a bit more depth than most uninformed readers might expect.
Dark Horse brought three of its brightest minds to the table:
Scott Allie, Editor
Josh Dysart, Writer
Jeremy Atkins, Publicist
Scott Allie did most of the talking. He has been Conan's editor ever since the series started at Dark Horse. By his side was Josh Dysart, the writer behind the current "Conan and the Midnight God" series. Both men are clearly quite passionate about their work and providing tons of detailed insight into the richly developed world of Conan's barbarian race.
One of the most substantial upcoming products will be FunCom's massively multiplayer PC game titled "Age of Conan." So far, the pre-release buzz is sounding amazing. It's scheduled to appear sometime later this year. Ideally it will allow players to feel as though they are running around in an authentic recreation of Conan's prehistoric world.
But Scott and Josh aren't just sitting on their duffs. To celebrate the release of this game, they've created "Conan and the Midnight God." This new series is designed to help uninitiated readers understand the complex world of the barbarian hero.
"The majority of the Conan series is set during his youth now," said Scott. Midnight God breaks this precedent. It takes place much further in the timeline, when Conan is in his mid-forties. Now a king, the once daring individualist is finding himself overburdened with responsibility. Crushed with the feeling that his life is not his own, Conan enters a sort of barbaric mid-life crisis.
"He sort of despises responsibility," Dysart explains, "It's like he's climbed the corporate ladder and all of a sudden: 'This is not my beautiful house!' 'This is not my beautiful wife!'"
While "Conan and the Midnight God," ties into the upcoming game, it's doesn't just retread familiar territory. The two are separate entities, and FunCom is independently working on their own story for the game.
"The comic is not designed to teach you how to play the game," said Allie, "It's not that kind of tie-in."
Over the years, many of the various creators who have helmed the series have taken some severe liberties with the character. Since Dark Horse recently took over, things have really changed for everyone's favorite Cimmerian. Or to be more accurate, they've gotten back to basics. They wanted to really flesh out the humanity of this character and bring him closer to Robert Howard's original vision.
Previously, our scantily clad hero was in danger of growing a bit stale. "Conan was becoming such a stereotypical hero model number 13. " said Allie. He was becoming such a staple character archetype that people were losing interest in him.
Scott explains that while the younger Conan is just starting his adventures, the older version seen in "Midnight God" has lots of scars and chunks taken out of him. By the time he sits in his throne, his nose has been broken hundreds of times. The art really helps to sell this point. When you see him, you can instantly recognize the years of abuse that have shaped this character.
But what's the main difference between this new Dark Horse Conan and the classic Marvel version. "There's been so much Conan done by everyone but Robert Howard," Allie states: "but we don't adhere to anything not written by Robert Howard."
This risky venture makes things a bit complicated for readers. It's hard to suddenly "forget" so many adventures of a character they've been reading for years.
But "Midnight God" is not based on any original Howard stories. It's a completely new adventure. Scott recognizes that they too are building their own version of the Conan saga, and are allowed to take certain liberties. As such, "Midnight God" is in the spirit of the originals. Basically, Howard never said that Conan didn't go on this adventure, so they have a little bit of gray area to play with.
Josh explained his difficulties in approaching such a distinctive character as Conan:
"It was a struggle to me because I have such feelings about barbarism and civilization." As far as he was concerned, this was the main point of Conan. "If you're not writing about barbarism versus civilization, then you simply are not doing the character justice."
"I am, by nature, a collectivist," Dysart explains, "But Conan is an individualist." Josh admitted some difficulty in coming to terms with this at first. It took a bit of work for him to get in the right frame of mind. "But once you get it, it's actually very liberating. It's like you get to find your masculinity again!"
In the past, Conan has been portrayed as a man without feeling. This is not true, according to both Scott and Josh. He does have these emotions, but the society he lives in does not allow him to express them. In "Midnight God" for example, his wife has a miscarriage in the first issue. This is obviously a devastating event for anyone to go through, but that's the difficulty of a character like Conan. You can't have him feeling sad and talking about his feelings for the rest of the next issue. He's human, so he's going to have these emotions, but he's not going to display them. "It's an incredibly unhealthy way to live!" said Josh.
Instead, you must look to Conan's actions. Across the arc he actually starts an entire war. Now, is this simply a result of foreign aggression, or is it some our hero's pent up frustration coming out? That's part of the intricacy Josh has worked into the story.
To further illustrate this point, Dysart and Allie actually argued about whether or not to have Conan say, "Feed that baby to the dog." Ultimately, this idea was scrapped. It certainly would have provided an even closer look at the inner workings of this barbarian society.
According to Josh, one of the key problems with the modern world is that we've lost what it means to be men. The final victim of the patriarchal society is natural manliness. With Conan, however, you are able to lift this veil as you travel back to a more primitive time. "I love being with Conan," said Dysart, "He allows you to see what is truly masculine and truly feminine."
After a pause, he added: "You can solve all your problems by killing people!"
"There is nothing a decapitation can't fix!" Scott laughed, "He's even beyond the alpha-male. If there were a letter before A, that would be Conan."
Josh then went into his research on barbaric society. The common consensus is that they were just foolish savages. "I saw on the History Channel of all places," said Dysart, "there was this special on how the Roman war machine just rolled over the barbarians. That's just not true!"
According to Josh, the Goths and other barbaric tribes were far more intelligent than people give them credit for. They developed techniques to ride their horses backwards while firing arrows. This combined with their intense understanding of mathematics allowed them to create superior bows and arrows. By riding a safe distance away from the Roman army, they could simply swivel in their saddle and unload on the approaching Romans. Their cunning ingenuity made them practically impervious to attack.
"A lot of writers made him a little bit bigger and a little bit dumber than how I imagine the character," said Allie. After seeing all that the character has lived through and accomplished, he simply cannot believe that the hero could be stupid. It just wouldn't make sense.
"With most heroes, they have an origin story and then it's 'status quo' for a while," Scott said. Conan is different, however. He's not a superhero. The series traverses his entire lifetime. Things change as he grows up. He learns from his adventures and uses this knowledge to help him later in life. One example Allie illustrated was that there is a specific story that marks the first time Conan ever uses a bow and arrow. He has never used it until this age, so when the stories go further back in the past, they make absolutely sure not to break this continuity.
They've also got new lines of "Kull" coming out, tentatively in September. "We're starting the series just as he's taken the throne and is forced to prove himself," said Scott.
Kull differs from Conan in that his adventures begin once he becomes king. Conversely, when Conan finally achieves his goal of becoming a leader, his life is basically over. Even though he has further adventures, the story will never really progress past that point. Kull on the other hand is always a King.
"He's more suited for the job," Allie explains.
Kull's more-developed civilization, while still brutal, is a nice contrast to the beaten-down world of Conan. This will help readers separate the two worlds.
Also coming out in their line this year will be the further adventures of yet another of Howard's characters, "Solomon Cane." The Dark Horse guys look like they're having a ball with these characters. Readers and players alike should be eager to get their hands on all these hot new Conan and company products.