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A Chat with the Legendary John Arcudi About His Work With the Savage Sword of Conan Series

by Lo Terry on March 5, 2024
  • In an era where the clash of steel and the whisper of sorcery echo through the annals of fantasy literature, John Arcudi’s tenure with “Savage Sword of Conan” in the 1980s stands as a testament to the timeless allure of Robert E. Howard’s creation. 

    As we venture back to the Hyborian Age through Arcudi’s eyes, we explore the depths of Conan’s character and the rich tapestry of a world both savage and sophisticated. 

    Join us as we delve into the mind of one of Conan’s storied scribes, uncovering the evolution of a legend from the ink-stained pages of the past to the vibrant panorama of modern mythology.

    When you first started writing for ‘Savage Sword of Conan’ in the 80s, what elements of Conan’s character or the Hyborian Age did you find most compelling, and how did they influence your storytelling approach?

    It’s a mistake to approach the character and the era as if they’re both just more primitive, more savage than what we encounter in the modern world.  There’s a whole cultural energy that courses through REH’s world, something that you might only be aware of if you’ve read a lot of his Conan and other stories.  Almost everything that Howard wrote involving the Hyborian Age adds to the overall picture of that culture — or if you prefer, to the lore. 

    Conan The Barbarian A Chat with the Legendary John Arcudi About His Work With the Savage Sword of Conan Series

    Over the years, Conan has undergone significant evolution as a character. In your view, how has Conan’s character changed since you first began writing for the series, and what constants have remained?

    The comics have certainly had to grow over the years, not only in regard to readership’s changing tastes, but also to be more inclusive, to bring a representation of greater diversity.  These are things you would find in Howard’s original stories to some degree, and in history itself.  It provides any interested writer with a richer background to draw from should that writer care to research it.

    Reflecting on the evolution of Conan as a cultural icon, how do you reconcile the character’s original pulp fiction roots with the modern audience’s expectations for depth and nuance?

    Certainly the comic book Conan has suffered under some writers who have seen him only as a means to appeal to (mostly male) readers and their power fantasies, but Howard had something else in mind entirely.  

    His last Conan story, “Red Nails,” for instance, is a veiled but sophisticated and dark satire of 20th Century American consumer culture.  “The Hour of the Dragon” draws liberally and effectively from British history, specifically the kidnap and ransom of Richard the Lionheart.  

    There’s a reason Conan and other Howard characters are still remembered and celebrated today – it’s because Howard built a strong foundation.

    Could you walk us through your creative process when contributing to ‘Savage Sword of Conan’? How did you approach blending the established lore with your own creative visions?

    This is a question I always have trouble with.  

    Sometimes it’s hard to know where ideas come from, and sometimes an image, or an article about archaeology or something will trigger a tumble of thoughts and a story will come together.  

    But it’s always important to go back and see if my ideas correspond to Howard’s vision, and if they don’t, I need to adapt them so they do.  

    Or start over. 

    What were your main inspirations and influences when writing for Conan? Were there any other works of fantasy or sword and sorcery that informed your contributions?

    I guess it’s clear by now that Howard is my guidepost, but Leigh Brackett’s Eric John Stark books would also qualify as inspiration.  Ostensibly they’re in the science fiction genre, but anybody who’s read them knows why they might influence my Conan writing – if only a little.  

    How did collaborations with artists shape the storytelling process in ‘Savage Sword of Conan’? Can you share an example where visual storytelling led to changes or enhancements in your narrative approach?

    “Collaboration” is the key word.  

    My scripts can be pretty specific in their descriptions but the artist spends more time with it than I do, and if s/he has a better idea for a panel, or even a whole scene, s/he is free to execute it that way.  That’s something I try to make clear from jump.  

    As a result, when I get back art and I see these changes, I get ideas for different (one hopes better) dialogue.  It’s a wonderful, always evolving process.

    Given the changes in the comic book industry and societal shifts since the 80s, how would you approach writing for ‘Savage Sword of Conan’ today? Are there aspects you would adapt or focus on differently?

    It’s important to be aware of the world you live in, but to try to change Conan too much to fit better into that world more or less misses the point of Conan entirely.  It’s not like REH was living in a cave.  Conan was to him just what he is to us: an imaginary throwback to a fictional time of ferocity and wonder which we can, for a time, safely inhabit.  Again, it’s important to be inclusive so that readers feel represented, but it’s a mistake to try to make Conan himself somehow more anodyne, more sensitive.

    Looking back, how do you feel about the impact your work on ‘Savage Sword of Conan’ has had on the franchise and its fans? Is there a particular story arc or issue you feel exemplifies your contribution?

    Oh, I’m certainly not qualified to answer that question. The fans could tell you better than I.

    As the comic book industry continues to expand into new markets and platforms, what untapped potential do you see for Conan’s stories, and how might new or emerging writers contribute to that vision?

    I will say this: with almost any character there is untapped potential.  In one of my answers above I used the word “foundation” for REH’s work.  

    To him, perhaps, that was the whole of the Conan mythos, though I get the sense he had more stories in him, but for us as writers and artists it is a foundation he laid that we can build on.  

    We can go almost anywhere with his stories, spin our own in a hundred directions.  That, I hope, is the future of Conan.

    • Conan The Barbarian A Chat with the Legendary John Arcudi About His Work With the Savage Sword of Conan Series
    • Conan The Barbarian A Chat with the Legendary John Arcudi About His Work With the Savage Sword of Conan Series
    • Conan The Barbarian A Chat with the Legendary John Arcudi About His Work With the Savage Sword of Conan Series

    As our journey through the Hyborian Age with John Arcudi comes to a close, we’re left with a deeper understanding of the complexities and enduring legacy of Conan the Barbarian. Arcudi’s insights remind us that Conan’s world, while rooted in the raw, untamed essence of pulp fiction, resonates with timeless themes of adventure, power, and survival, woven into narratives that speak to readers across generations.

    We invite you to continue supporting this legendary saga by diving into the newly-released Savage Sword of Conan series. Each issue is a tribute to the indomitable spirit of Conan, offering new stories that honor the legacy of authors like Robert E. Howard and John Arcudi while forging new legends in the annals of fantasy literature.

    Embrace the call to adventure, and let the latest chapter of the Savage Sword of Conan carry you back to the fabled lands of the Hyborian Age, where every page turn is a step into the unknown, and every story is a legacy waiting to be discovered. Join us in supporting this timeless hero’s journey into the new horizons of sword and sorcery.

  • Lo Terry

    In his effort to help Heroic Signatures tell legendary stories, Lo Terry does a lot. Sometimes, that means spearheading an innovative, AI-driven tavern adventure. In others it means writing words in the voice of a mischievous merchant for people to chuckle at. It's a fun time.

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