Jim Zub is leading Conan the Barbarian on an epic new quest

Art from Conan The Barbarian.
(Image credit: Titan Comics / Heroic Signatures)

Robert E. Howard's noble warrior Conan The Barbarian is back with a new ongoing series written by Jim Zub, with art by Rob De La Torre, and colors by José Villarrubia.

The series launched with a Free Comic Book Day #0 (available to read online here) but kicks off in earnest with next week's thrilling #1.

This is not Zub's first experience writing for the character, having previously scripted 13 issues of Marvel's Conan comic back in 2019. That book was a victim of the pandemic, however, with a seven month gap between the first issue and the rest of his run causing it to lose momentum and ultimately putting paid to Zub's long-term ambitions.

But second chances do happen... When Titan Comics joined forces with Heroic Signatures, who hold the rights to Conan and other Howard characters, they turned to Zub to pen the new monthly comic. "All I want to do is a long, sustained run on these characters that I love to show people why they're great," he tells Newsarama in an exclusive interview.

The main cover for Conan The Barbarian #1.

(Image credit: Titan Comics / Heroic Signatures)

Newsarama: How does it feel to be back on Conan? And how did this all come about?

Jim Zub: It's phenomenal. Honestly, it feels like a real dream come true! We're coming out of the gate the strongest I could have ever imagined.

Heroic Signatures are the rights holders to Conan and I had stayed in touch with them the whole time. Fred Malmberg has been helping to run the property for, I think, 20 years. He liked my sensibilities on the character and the broader Robert E. Howard mythology. We started talking and it was essentially, "Do you still want to do Conan?" I thought Fred meant like an anniversary issue, or a one-shot, but he was like, "No, we're looking for a creative partner and a commitment to a long term run on the series."

What can you tease about the first issue?

Our first arc is called Bound in Black Stone, and I don't mind saying there's a very famous Robert E. Howard horror story called The Black Stone. Black Stone is this supernatural element that Howard uses across multiple tales, so we are making those links very explicit in terms of the mythology that we're building.

There's a tale that's hinted at in the original prose called The Battle of Venarium and we showed that in the Free Comic Book Day story. That is the thing that gets Conan to leave Cimmeria for the first time and sort of ignites his wanderlust and we are tying our story back into that. 

Art from Conan The Barbarian.

(Image credit: Titan Comics / Heroic Signatures.)

When in the timeline does the new book take place?

You see in the first issue that Conan's been wandering for several years. He's gone through a couple of his earliest tales, like The Frost-Giant's Daughter, and now he's the closest to Cimmeria he's been since leaving. He's at a precipice in terms of deciding, "OK, I don't like the civilised world, but do I still have it in me to keep going forth and exploring deeper, or am I just gonna go home?" And then outside forces strike and he's pulled into this broader conflict that is going to test his mettle and introduce a new character into the canon, this Pict warrior woman named Brissa.

And the series will continue on from that point? 

The way it's going to run is interesting. When Robert E. Howard wrote the original Conan stories, they were out of chronological order. The very first Conan story has him already as a king and then in the next story he's younger. Howard jumps around a lot and that was one potential approach we looked at, but we thought that might not feel satisfying to the reader. 

So, what we're doing is: the first four issues is an arc. The second four issues are their own little arc, but they tie together thematically, even though we're going to be jumping forward in the timeline. Something that happens in the first arc will carry forward into the second arc and you're going to realise that these stories link up, but each one is also its own self-contained adventure. 

I feel like, if we do it right, we get the best of both worlds. We have an ongoing continuity that matters, but we can also jump around the timeline a little bit. We could go into a story where he's a buccaneer or one where he's a thief, or something like that, and it's still going to feel like it all hangs together.

Pages from Conan The Barbarian.

(Image credit: Titan Comics / Heroic Signatures)

Will these all be original tales, or do you plan to adapt any of the Robert E. Howard stories? 

No, that's not the current plan. They've been adapted multiple times extremely well. Marvel's done most of those stories at least two times. Dark Horse did all of the stories as well. And so if we just go back to that well, as amazing as those stories are, everyone knows the beats and how the plots play out. Plus I don't want to be a cover band, you know what I mean? We want to make new stuff. The 21 original Conan stories are canon and our stories take place in and around them.

How is it working with Rob De La Torre? What does he bring to the book?

He's got a classic touch, but his page layouts are very modern, kind of European, but his art stylings are hearkening to an earlier classic era that I feel is so at home with the character. It's a throwback, but it doesn't feel derivative. 

We talked very early on when we started to collaborate on this and I said, "Look, instead of me telling you 'page one, panel one', I'll do it Roy Thomas style. I'll tell you what happens in this sequence and you pace it out, man." And so for the first time I'm writing dialogue and captions to the art I'm looking at. I'm really excited by it, because we're jamming in really cool ways. It's just a real joy.

Art from Conan The Barbarian.

(Image credit: Titan Comics)

Were you able to salvage any of your plans for the Marvel run?

If readers want to get a hint of the kinds of things that we were thinking about for the future of the Marvel run, I did a miniseries called Serpent War, which took vestiges of other Robert E. Howard stories and started to weave them together. It was just scratching the surface of the possibilities. Now we're going to be able to do this on a much bigger stage. 

That being said, I'm not trying to recreate what was there. I feel like we've got an even better opportunity now. Everyone on the Marvel book was great, but we're in a different space now. We're not limited in terms of rating on the new book, we're definitely channelling that kind of classic Savage Sword violence.

Art from Conan The Barbarian.

(Image credit: Titan Comics / Heroic Signatures)

What are your long term hopes for the book?

I'm in it for the long haul! I know what I'm doing for the first two years and beyond. We're already starting to sort of poke at the edges of it before the book has even launched. 

All I want to do is make as much cool stuff as humanly possible. Let's show people why this character endures and why these stories still matter. And not just because of the old stuff, but because we can still play these tunes and surprise you. 

You know, any iconic character is difficult to write because it can feel like everything's been played out, but if you do it well, you can still take those ingredients and make something unexpected and cool. I feel very honored to be at the front of this charge and I'm doing everything I can to make it as exciting as possible.

Conan The Barbarian #1 is published by Titan Comics and Heroic Signatures on August 2.

Looking for something to view your comics on? Check out our guide to the best digital comic book readers.

Will Salmon
Comics Editor

Will Salmon is the Comics Editor for GamesRadar/Newsarama. He has been writing about comics, film, TV, and music for more than 15 years, which is quite a long time if you stop and think about it. At Future he has previously launched scary movie magazine Horrorville, relaunched Comic Heroes, and has written for every issue of SFX magazine for over a decade. He sometimes feels very old, like Guy Pearce in Prometheus. His music writing has appeared in The Quietus, MOJO, Electronic Sound, Clash, and loads of other places and he runs the micro-label Modern Aviation, which puts out experimental music on cassette tape.