Roy Thomas, who wrote the first Conan comics ever for Marvel Comics in the 70s, is writing a new Conan series for Dark Horse which will premiere this fall: Conan: Road of Kings. The launch of this new title marks the 40th anniversary of Conan comics, which began in the fall of 1970 with Conan the Barbarian #1 from Marvel. In Part 2 of this two part interview, Thomas talks about the new story he’s writing for Dark Horse for Road of Kings. In Part 1, Thomas talked about the history of the property in comics and the property.
This is your first time writing Conan for Dark Horse. How are you going to fit your storyline, if at all, into the Marvel continuity, or the Dark Horse continuity, or the original stories?
Well the continuity it has to fit into of course is Dark Horse’s which seems to be aligned as was Marvel’s to some extent, with Robert E. Howard’s continuity. The only difference is that Dark Horse and the people they hired to put some proposal papers, informational papers together for them, came up with a somewhat different order in which they think some of the stories happened than the one that was accepted some years before. I don’t necessarily agree with that order but it doesn’t make any real difference. It simply means that by the time I’m writing Conan, Conan has had a couple of these Robert E. Howard adventures that he wouldn’t have had at this time in the Marvel comics.
We don’t pay any attention to Marvel continuity because that would just be confusing. Dark Horse reprints those books, but they go under their own continuity and readapt the stories as they come to them.
In fact I had kind of a strange and difficult path which actually probably needed a lot more room to do it the way I would have liked to, happy as I am to be doing Conan. When I pick up Conan after another series has just ended, Conan has just become the captain of this pirate ship on the Vilayet Sea which is about as far east as the map for the Hyborean Age goes, at least Robert E. Howard’s authentic map. It’s over there between Turan and Hyrkania—it’s pretty far east.
At the end of the story which was called alternately “Shadows in the Moonlight,” or Howard’s title was, “Iron Shadows in the Moon” (which we’ve always used as the adaptation title), he’s over there in the east, he’s just become a pirate captain. What they needed was in twelve issues for me to get him from there (getting rid of the pirate thing very quickly, whereas otherwise we’d stick around with him as the pirate captain for a little while) by the end of 12th issue to be in Messantia, the capital of Argos, which is about as far west as you can go in the Hyborean Age, because right after that they’ll be starting their own particular version of the adaptation of the story “Queen of the Black Coast,” in which Conan spent a couple of years with Belit the pirate queen, his first long-time lover. I sort of became the the writer of this filler period. That led me to feel that I needed kind of an episodic storyline, but one where you’d have maybe two six issue story arcs so that each one of them could be collected into a graphic novel collection.
I had to plot the stories and make them a little more of a rambling story, more than some real tight story, nor did I have time to play around with the pirate thing. I had to take him off that pirate ship in the first issue. But that was fine, I wasn’t that eager to write a pirate story anyway because by the time right after he gets to the west coast of the continent and joins Belit, he’s going to be a pirate for the next couple of years or so. So I guess it made sense not to have him go through another pirate stint right before that.
The thing I came up with, although he’s been on it before, there’s this thing called the Road of Kings which winds from somewhere in Turan on the east there and it winds through a lot of the Hyborean kingdoms and it ends in Messantia, that
So that doesn’t have anything to do with the
No. He wrote one later, but by that time I was already gone. That had to have been one of those relatively new non-Tor Conan novels that I didn’t adapt. It has no relation to it. I thought of the title Conan: Road of Kings, then I remembered it was a book that I’d never read, so I had no idea what’s in that novel. I never tried to read it. I thought Karl Edward Wagner was a very good writer with his Kane stories but I didn’t really like his Conan writing much so I never even read that story, so this doesn’t owe anything to it. It’s just the title.
Are you going to introduce any new characters in the series?
Oh sure, there will be a number of new characters. I haven’t yet settled on the names of one or two of them yet but there will be one or two warriors, enemies of Conan that will be quite formidable. One of the other things I like to do and that Mike Richardson encouraged me to do because they’ve been doing it elsewhere in the series over the last few years is to do as I did often at Marvel which is to find a character that appeared later in Conan’s life and put him into the story earlier if it makes sense.
One character who will be continuing through at least the first half of the story will be the girl, Olivia, who is the heroine he picks up in the “Iron Shadows of the Moon” story, and he’s with her at the end of the previous series.
That was the problem you always had at the end of a Conan story. Half the time he had some girl with him and by the time you found him in the next chronological story he’d lost her. You always wondered what happened to her. I used to have fun with that at Marvel. I had to figure some new way. You couldn’t just have him love them and leave them all the time, that would get kind of boring and not even make him look very good. You had to find all sorts of new ways. Some of them would betray him, some would find true love, some of them would do this, some of them would do that, one or two might get killed later on. I forget what was done with Olivia at Marvel exactly. I think I used her in another story or two after I adapted that story in Savage Sword of Conan. Here I had to deal with this. She becomes an important character in the first several issues of the series.
There will be several other characters. There’s a wizard/inquisitor type and several others, as I said, plus a few other characters who will appear because they’re meant to appear later in Conan’s life. Quite often in a Conan story he would meet somebody and there would be reference to the fact that he knew them this time or that time. There are all these little clues like land mines in the Conan stories and I would just (did then and do now) go in and pick them out and drop the characters into Conan.
So it’s been a long time since you’ve written a Conan story. How does it feel to get back to this character that you spent so much time with?
It’s interesting. The last one I wrote, Marvel was doing several three issue limited series; I did about three of those right near the end before Marvel let the license lapse, in the very late nineties, which is almost twenty years after we started it. I haven’t written or read Conan comics since then, not because they weren’t good, but I don’t get to read a lot of fiction and my interest in Conan was mostly Robert E. Howard, not in the comics as such. So I got the Dark Horse comics and read them. They had some good writers on them, Kurt Busiek and Tim Truman, so they’ve been very well handled. Some of the things are things I would do and some things are things I wouldn’t do, but that’s what you expect as a writer. Everybody brings his own Rorschach blot mind to the table to see what they would do with the character that somebody else created, which is all the same thing we do with Superman or Spider-Man, or anybody else.
It takes a little time to kind of get back into. It’s not quite like writing the first issue of Conan the Barbarian forty years ago but still like getting back into it, especially because I’m trying to walk a tightrope between my own approach to Conan, either as it was or as I might have done it if I hadn’t had the Comics Code and the whole Marvel mystique looming over my head on the one hand and on the other hand of course there’s the Dark Horse version of Conan. So I’m trying to see how what I want to do accords with what Dark Horse has done and Mike’s done with the character. It may take an issue or two for that to shake out but we have a very talented young artist in Mike Hawthorne penciling the book. Mike’s very good and he’s great to work with.
I’m working what they used to call “Marvel style” (only it isn’t anymore): doing the plot and then doing the dialogue after the pencils are done. Not that many comics are done that way anymore, but that’s a whole other discussion that I won’t get into. It’s the way that I did several hundred Conan stories in addition to a lot of other things. I said I’d love to work on Conan as long as I can work on Conan the way I worked on Conan before. And they said fine so I’m doing it.
Are they showing you any script elements or giving you any guidance in terms of things to do or not to do as it relates to the movie?
I have no knowledge of that movie. My interest has always been (a)Robert E. Howard, and (b) me writing Conan because I like the character. Everything else doesn’t make it onto my radar screen. I’m really a fan of Robert E. Howard’s Conan. I like Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan but I wasn’t that wild about either of the movies including the one I helped write. But even the first one, I just didn’t think they captured what I felt Conan should be even though it was not the fault primarily of the actors.