Slashing its way onto comic shelves this summer is Vault Comics' latest action fantasy saga, Barbaric. Following the adventures of a violent warrior named Owen and his magical talking axe (named axe), Barbaric is full of guts, laughs, creatures, and more than a little magic.
Described as "a black light poster from the '90s come to life" by artist/co-creator Nathan Gooden, Barbaric was created out of a desire by him and writer Michael Moreci for something "loose and riffing," unencumbered by pure seriousness.
Ahead of the book's release on June 30, Newsarama spoke with artist Nathan Gooden and writer Michael Moreci to hear more about what inspired the world of Barbaric, what influenced its design, and what type of people we can meet there.
Nrama: Nathan, can you describe the world of Barbaric?
Nathan Gooden: I look at the world of Barbaric as a black light poster from the '90s come to life.
Mike and I wanted this world to play fast and loose. 2020 was a tough year for everyone, and I needed something professionally, that was just fun and free. In that mindset, I did a lot of the design work on the page as I worked. I read Nicholas Eames' Kings of Wyld, and Jason Aaron's run on the Conan comic. From that, Barbaric was born!
Nrama: Michael, before we get into the plot of Barbaric, I wanted to bring up that this book is different in tone from your other Vault books, especially the recently concluded horror series The Plot. Did writing Barbaric feel different for you, and if so, how?
Michael Moreci: Well, I think it's similar in some ways to Wasted Space, but the book certainly feels looser than anything I've done before. And that's what I wanted.
Barbaric #1 preview
You don't often get comics that are loose and riffing anymore. Nate and I just went at it and let ourselves be free, and I think that not only the process was more fun, but the creativity it enabled really, really shows on the page.
Nrama: Barbaric is absolutely soaked in blood. Can you talk about the key to creating a satisfyingly gory battle scene?
Gooden: With a title like Barbaric, I knew I had to bring a crazy level of violence that would make Conan or He-Man blush. Instead of slicing someone's head off, I wanted to show how Axe would tear and rip someone's flesh apart until their head inevitably fell off.
Showing the aftermath of a battle was also a key component. Owen, Axe, and Soren surrounded by piles of bodies and body parts were some of my favorite panels to draw.
Nrama: Ok, now let's talk plot. We meet Owen the Barbarian when he's under a curse. Who was he before this curse was placed on him? What's he like now that it has been?
Moreci: I can't say too much about who Owen was prior to the curse, because we're going to hit on that in future volumes.
What I can say is that, in essence, Owen was a barbarian, roaming the realm, loving life. As he himself says in the first issue. 'My life was simple. I drank. I fought. I f**ked.' He was living his best barbarian life...and then he got cursed, and he always has to the right thing. Which isn't easy for someone like him! And he's grumpy because of it.
He can't die, he can't live the way he wants to live, and he's stuck with a bloodthirsty axe who acts as his moral guide. It's terrible for Owen...but hilarious for us.
Nrama: Can you tell us about the source of the curse?
Moreci: They were witches, but the reason for their curse is a very specific one that will be revealed in a future volume. I know exactly what's behind the curse and what it's for, and it's going to be a great story once we blow the lid off of that. Needless to say, that reveal is very much where we're heading.
Nrama: Despite the dark magic, guts, and murder in this book, there are a ton of laughs. What's the key to landing a good joke in a comic?
Moreci: That's a great question. I think it's two things.
One, my favorite, is juxtaposition. Pitting two very different things against each other. Like, having an axe as a moral compass alone is pretty funny - but then having him get drunk on blood and crave even more blood is a great source of laughs. A weapon as a tool of morality is something you can get a lot of mileage out of.
Then there's Owen, a barbarian who has never cared for anything but himself. Again, it's a dramatic conflict that's also funny. And the second thing, pretty simply, is extremes. The conceit of Barbaric allows us to go to some pretty crazy places, and the bigger we make the blood, guts, and gore, and the responses of the characters to these things, the more humor we can draw.
Nrama: What does your collaborative process with colorist Addison Duke look like? What does he bring to the page?
Gooden: I started working with Addison on Vampire the Masquerade, and we just really clicked. We chat daily and he makes me look a lot better than I am.
His choices are often completely different than what I had in mind, but so much better! He doesn't just color around my lines, he adds to them. He's willing to take chances, that really pay off in the storytelling.
I think this is just the first in a long series of projects with Addison. ( If he will have me!?)
Nrama: I want to talk about the variant cover for Barbaric #1, which is designed to look like Barry Windsor-Smith's iconic Conan the Barbarian #1 cover. Can you talk about creating this cover? What influence does Windsor-Smith have on this book, or on you as an artist?
Gooden: At Vault, Tim Daniels and I are in charge of a vintage line of covers, in which we try to pay homage to the greats that came before us. These covers always have a written history of the artist, cover art, and its importance to the comic world. It's our way of thanking Barry Windsor-Smith for making Barbaric possible.
Growing up, Weapon X was one of my favorites, and maybe fans can see a little of Barry's design in Barbaric's antihero Owen.
Nrama: There are a multitude of sword & sorcery comics, but not all of them are well-known. What does a sword & sorcery comic have to do to stand out?
Gooden: Sword and sorcery that stands out for me, focus more on the characters and not huge story arcs. Fast-paced action tales that have immediate impact and consequences on the characters. The challenge is building an icon that is recognizable no matter the setting and tale.
Moreci: Honestly, I don't really know. All I can say is that, really, this is a question every comic on the stands has to ask itself. 'How do you stand out?'
For me, it's all about voice. It's so important to have not only a unique story to tell but a unique way of telling it. I think Barbaric very much is that, and it's why people are getting excited about it. It feels different; it feels like its own world, and that's something I've wanted to do from day one. If I had my way, Barbaric, this world, and its characters, will run for a very, very long time.
Barbaric #1 goes on sale on June 30, both in print and digitally. For the best digital comics experience, check out our list of the best digital comics readers for Android and iOS devices.