For the past two years, the writer has been expanding creator Robert E. Howard’s original story “Queen of the Black Coast” into a long form comics work in the pages of Dark Horse Comics’ “Conan,” and recently the publisher revealed that for the final arc of the run, Wood’s longtime “DMZ” collaborator Riccardo Burchielli will join him on the series for a four-part story called “The Song of BÃªlit.” And as we count down to the appearance of a winged beast which will challenge the two warrior lovers, Wood promises Burchielli’s art will bring equal parts sex and violence to a series that’s already seen its share of both.
CBR News spoke with the writer about the final arc and how it’s indicative of his “Conan” run as a whole, the writer explaining how artists Becky Cloonan and Paul Azaceta have led the way for a more modern adaptation of Howard’s character, why the series gives Burchielli a chance to cut loose like never before and how he’s approaching a finish that will be faithful to Howard in its savagery and silence.
CBR News: Overall, the artists have been varied in their own styles and in their approach to Conan. Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, Declan Shalvey, Mirko Colak and Paul Azaceta are all folks who I think break a bit from the Frazetta/Smith tradition on the Barbarian without breaking from the core of Howard’s character or world. Overall, how much do you feel that shift in style has helped the book or guided it creatively?
Brian Wood: I think it just serves to reinforce the fact that this book isn’t the 70’s-style Savage Sword Conan and is its own thing — a more current take on Conan, not a retro piece. While all the artists you name have styles very different from each other, they are of this generation of talent and automatically bring a newness to what they do. It’s also worth noting that all of them except for Mirko and James Harren were collaborators of mine on “Northlanders.” So the combination of them plus me is not only a proven relationship, but in a way a sort of continuation of the modern/historical vibe that drove “Northlanders.”
And now Riccardo joins the book! Obviously, you guys have worked together before, maybe more than any other artist you’ve teamed with, I’m guessing. In general, why did you want someone you’re so close with to work on the book at its end?
Well, I love Riccardo and I knew he’d be into the book, and also, specifically, this final chapter. It’s sort of a no-brainer, really, and given the chance I will always ask to work with someone I know.
Of course, while most folks will immediately think of “DMZ” with this team, Riccardo also did some issues of “Northlanders,” which I think might give folks an idea of how he’ll handle Conan. Is there a specific approach he’s taking here that meshes well with that past work or maybe goes against expectation?
It’s pretty lurid, both in terms of sexuality and the horror that is part and parcel with these end chapters of “The Queen of the Black Coast.” He’s into that sort of thing, the “Heavy Metal” vibe (for lack of a better term). “DMZ” had him restrained so often that, with this and with “Northlanders,” I wanted to see the Wild European Cartoonist emerge, the death metal musician, the blackly comic guy I know him to be. So in fitting with the source material he’s adapting, its a bit gonzo — lots of ruined cities, creatures lurking in the dark, serpents, drugs, sex, battles, blood red moons and mystical jungles. He goes for it.
With six issues to go, this is going to be the longest continual arc in your whole Conan run. Can you tell me a bit about the scope of this finale? Has much changed from your original plan after nearly 20 issues of storytelling?
Well, let’s see — the “Black Stones” arc that Paul Azaceta is drawing takes us through #21, so Riccardo’s arc is four issues, #22-25. So its about the same length as the others. And unlike most of my run, this last arc is strictly adapted from the source material. Which is fine, except I didn’t quite realize until I sat down to script that most of that source material is devoid of dialogue. So that’s been a challenge, to put together a comic book script based off something where no one speaks for entire issues at a time.
As an adaptation/expansion of “Queen of the Black Coast,” this whole series revolves around Conan’s relationship with BÃªlit. How has your understanding of what that relationship is all about grown over the course of the series?
Well, its been up to me to define that. The source material only goes so far — we have them meeting, and we have the end of the story, and in the middle, the years they spent together, it was all undefined. BÃªlit’s referred to as the great love of his life, but we never saw what that means, what they did or how that happened. It was, honestly, the thing that made me take the job, the freedom to add to a mythology like that. I’ve stayed pretty close to the original pitch, in terms of the ups and downs and challenges they faced. Some of its pretty hardcore at times, but great loves are only great if they survive terrible challenges.
Anyone who’s read the original novel knows that the ending of this story isn’t an “and they happily sail off into the sunset” affair, though let’s leave specific spoilers aside for the moment. As this is the end of the whole run and the section of the novel perhaps best remembered by fans, in what ways are you and Riccardo hoping to go out with a bang?
I don’t know if we’ll be going out with a bang, to be honest. Meaning, I don’t think the story has that sort of climatic vibe at the end. There’s a hell of a lot of drama and a few pretty epic fight scenes, but it’s so dark, very downbeat and heavy. Very “heart of darkness.” I do think it’s going to have tremendous emotional impact, and that’s good enough for me. It’s exactly the sort of endings I love to write in my creator-owned books.
Part 1 of “Conan’s” final arc, “The Song of BÃªlit,” begins with issue #22 on November 20.