In a life as celebrated and storied as Conan’s, each journey holds its own unique opportunities and dangers, with the lessons learned either propelling the hero toward his destiny or cutting his path abruptly short. Shipping in December as part of Dark Horse’s “One-shot Wonders” program, “Conan: The Weight of the Crown” finds “The Boys” artist, Darick Robertson, writing and illustrating an all-new adventure in the life of Robert E. Howard’s savage Cimmerian. CBR News spoke with Robertson about the one-shot, his artistic affinity for Conan, and working from his own scripts.
“Conan: The Weight of the Crown” takes place between issues 7 and 8 of the current “Conan the Cimmerian” series, at a time when, as Robertson put it, “Conan is young, angry and wandering. Conan gets a taste of leadership years before he actually becomes a real king,” the artist said, referring to the fact that much later in Conan’s timeline he does in fact attain royal status. “Fate puts him into the role of king in a small, rich and bountiful valley on the edge of Aquilonia, where a former general in Aqualonia’s army had gone a bit mad and had declared the valley his own. When the Mad King meets his fate in battle, the wise men decide that, rather than give power to the king’s son, the true heir to the throne, Conan should take over, because he’s the biggest and strongest. Conan accepts, because he sees what’s in it for him, but as he comes to realize, there’s more to being a leader than just being able to kick ass.”
In recent years, Robertson has been most closely associated with “The Boys,” a series which he co-created with Garth Ennis, and before that he had built his reputation on “Transmetropolitan” and “Wolverine.” While “Conan” would seem to have a very different energy from those books, Robertson said that he nevertheless feels at home with the Cimmerian. “When I first started to take my drawing seriously, dreaming about being a professional artist, I was drawing stuff inspired specifically by Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo and Richard Corben, and it was all fantasy barbarian stuff,” Robertson told CBR. “I even still have the Conan Mego figure from when I was a kid.
“When I worked on ‘Wolverine,’ I went to Frazetta again for inspiration,” the artist continued. “Much of what I was visually restrained from doing with ‘Wolverine,’ I am given free reign to do with ‘Conan.’ When I saw [artist] Cary Nord’s awesome work when Dark Horse got the license to do ‘Conan,’ I went out of my way to buy it. So I have always had a fondness for barbarian fantasy, and in a lot of ways, this project has felt like I am getting back to my roots and down to the bones of what I’ve always loved about comics and fantasy illustration.”
On the writing side, Robertson prefers a traditional take on the R.E. Howard character. “Conan is such a great character in that you just know what to do with him as long as you keep him at his basest conception and don’t over complicate him (something I learned from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s take on the ‘Punisher’),” he said. “So much good stuff has paved the way for me, and yet there’s still room to bring my interpretation to the character and find another dimension to his persona.
“Writing Conan is a bit like taking a tank for a drive,” Robertson continued. “I like Conan, because he’s simple and yet complex. No super powers, yet he’s totally believable when he’s dominating a scene and besting any enemy. He doesn’t like magic, his god grants him no favors and doesn’t accept prayers.
“Conan is pure Id in a lot of ways. Conan takes what he wants, does what he wants, but he’s not evil. He’s not a hero, necessarily, either. He’s a hero when it suits him. He’s been a thief, a warrior, a pirate, a mercenary, and he always remains solitary. Ultimately, Conan is a survivor. Figuring out who Conan is to me, is the reason that I am enjoying writing him. What people see in him, I think, changes with what they want to see in him. In many ways he’s what every man wants to be on some level, some base level. Conan is a easy character to project onto. I feel like I know what Conan will do in any situation, so the challenge is to make his circumstances unpredictable.”
Robertson said that this understanding of Conan allowed him to “write from the gut,” composing his story from a sense of who Conan is rather than in reference to any particular story. But, the artist said, if he continues to work with the character he intends to get into specifics. “With an eye towards writing future Conan stories, I have the Robert E. Howard collection and intend to read it cover to cover between this project and the next ‘Conan’ project that I write and draw,” Robertson told CBR. “I’d like my future stories to capture the spirit of the Howard stuff as much as possible.”
Though Robertson is best known as an artist working with top-tier writers like Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and Greg Rucka, “Conan: The Weight of the Crown” allows him to return to writing comics, as well, a task he has scarcely performed since working on the Malibu’s Ultraverse titles in the mid-1990s. “I find myself at odds with myself, as I take the two jobs as separate challenges,” Robertson said of serving as both writer and illustrator. “I am happiest as my own writer when I realize I have the freedom to change my mind when I’m drawing the story, and make it better on the spot if something isn’t working as well visually. When I’m drawing a writer’s script, I want very much to bring his vision to the page and be respectful of what that vision is before I bring my own piece to it. As the writer, I have to restrain myself so I don’t create art problems later when I get down to drawing, because sometimes I find myself annoyed that I created difficulties by overestimating what will work on a page. It all comes down to just trying to get this comic that I see in my mind onto the page.
“This project has been unique in that I was given a long deadline to really make some fundamental changes in the art as the story evolved, and develop it slowly, rather than under pressure. My awesome editor, Philip Simon, has been supportive and involved, and it really made the difference. It’s work that I’m very proud of, and I hope that it shows in the final product.”
“Conan: The Weight of the Crown” is in stores December 16.