Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts

by Lo Terry on April 9, 2024
  • If you need proof of just how exciting, how downright revolutionary this new era of Conan storytelling is…well, just feast your eyes on the bombshell ending of issue #8. Talk about a cliffhanger! Zub and artist Doug Braithwaite delivered a final page shocker that left readers’ jaws on the floor – and set the stage for a story arc that promises to redefine everything we thought we knew about the Cimmerian.

    But here’s the thing – that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In a wide-ranging conversation with the Heroic Signatures team, Jim Zub pulled back the curtain on his creative process, offering tantalizing hints of the epic tales to come and the sheer amount of blood, sweat, and tears he and his collaborators are pouring into every page.

    A Love Affair that’s a Long Time Coming

    For Jim Zub, a lifelong love affair with comics began in childhood. “I’ve been a comic book collector since I was a little kid,” he recalls. Around age eight, a fateful encounter with a G.I. Joe comic would light the spark. “Marvel had their own G.I. Joe series I stumbled across, and the stories were so much more visceral, cool, and badass than the animated series.”

    But it was Dungeons & Dragons that truly ignited Zub’s passion for storytelling. The game “made me go from wanting to just passively read or watch and be entertained, to wanting to have a proactive interaction around storytelling.” This newfound enthusiasm soon led him to the raw, primal tales of Conan. “We started reading the [Conan] comics. My cousins had copies of Savage Sword of Conan kicking around.”

    Immersing himself in the bloody, brooding adventures of the Cimmerian barbarian, Zub found his creative calling in the sword and sorcery genre. The dangerous, mysterious world Conan inhabited resonated with the budding writer. It was a realm where, as Zub puts it, “You would never be the great hero of destiny with the magic item that’s going to save the day; you were just struggling to survive in a world that was cruel and strange.”

    Decades later, Zub now holds the keys to Conan’s kingdom as the writer guiding the iconic character’s comic book adventures. But for this lifelong fan, it’s not enough to simply retread the same old ground. In taking the reins of the franchise, Zub is driven by a singular mission: to capture the primal essence of Robert E. Howard’s original tales, while blazing new trails for Conan to explore.

    Fresh to Death

    This drive to forge a daring new path through the Hyborian Age stems from Zub’s deep reverence for the source material. He aims to conjure the untamed spirit and fierce vitality that crackles through Howard’s prose, while spinning original yarns that will keep readers on the edges of their seats. 

    “I don’t want to be a cover band,” Zub asserts. “I don’t just want to play the same stock tunes over and over again, because no matter how cool we could make them visually, it’s incredibly hard to surprise readers.” For him, the true challenge – and the true joy – of helming a legendary property like Conan lies in marrying the familiar with the fresh.

    To accomplish this goal, Zub immerses himself in the text of Howard’s prose and then alchemizes those elements into something both faithful and forward-looking.  Underlying this approach is Zub’s keen insight into the character of Conan himself. 

    Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts

    In Zub’s own words: “You can distill it down in a lot of different ways,” Zub muses, “but at its absolute core for me, Conan is the ultimate survivor.” This simple yet powerful insight cuts to the heart of what makes Conan such an enduring icon – his unbreakable will, his sheer force of vitality.

    Zub elaborates on this idea, painting a portrait of Conan as a man driven by an insatiable hunger for life in all its raw intensity. “He is also a pure adventurer in that he wants to see and  discover and challenge himself and then he will survive whatever the world throws at him.” 

    This understanding of Conan’s psyche allows Zub to plumb new depths in his storytelling, to peel back the layers of the Cimmerian’s hard-hewn exterior and reveal the complex humanity beneath. At one moment, Zub describes Conan as existing “somewhere on the razor’s edge of aspirational and tragic”.

    Indeed, it is through exploring these light and shadow aspects of Conan’s character, that Zub is able to bring new dimensions to the iconic hero. And nowhere is this more evident than in his portrayal of Conan’s relationship with Bêlit, the pirate queen who forever alters the course of the Cimmerian’s life. 

    More than a Man, Even More of a Legend 

    In the tale of Conan and Bêlit, Zub sees a love story of truly epic proportions, a romance that is as much about passion and adventure as it is about grief and transformation. “Queen of the Black Coast is right up there [as a classic Conan story],” Zub affirms. “And it’s definitely one of my favorites as well. The intensity and tragedy of it is so visceral and so powerful.” For him, the tale of Conan and Bêlit is a defining moment, a crucible in which the very essence of Conan’s character is forged.

    Zub sees in Bêlit herself a figure every bit as vital and magnetic as Conan. In Bêlit, Zub recognizes a kindred spirit to Conan, a being of pure will and unbridled passion. “I wanted to show how this woman could lead, be the queen of the black coast, how she could be a pirate queen and have a crew that would follow her to death,” he explains. “Like who do you have to be and how intense a personality do you have to be to do that, to win Conan’s heart and the entire crew of the Tigress?” 

    Yet it is in the aftermath of Bêlit’s death that Zub truly delves into the depths of Conan’s psyche. He paints a haunting portrait of a man shattered by grief, a warrior struggling to find his way in a world suddenly bereft of meaning. “We show this tragic, explosive… not even cathartic, but like self-destructive quality,” Zub reveals. “He’s gonna drink himself to excess and he’s gonna go out and kill to get more gold and then spend on more destruction, absolute PTSD.”

    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts

    In this raw, unflinching exploration of Conan’s pain, Zub shows us Conan not as an invincible hero, but as a man wrestling with the most profound of losses. And yet, even in his darkest moments, there remains a flicker of the indomitable spirit that defines him. “He’s still the survivor, he won’t let himself die, he won’t commit suicide, he’s gotta be… He’s still at his heart, still the Cimmerian, still doing, carrying on, despite the emotional black hole that’s eating him up inside.”

    This emotional journey reaches a fever pitch in Issue 8 of Titan Comics’ Conan the Barbarian run, when Bêlit seems to return from beyond the grave, a spectral presence that haunts Conan’s every step. Is she a ghost, a hallucination, or something else entirely? Zub leaves the question tantalizingly open. “We don’t ever answer the question whether it is her literally saving him again in his mind, or just the rippling echo of her memory.”

    In the end, whether Bêlit’s presence is real or imagined matters less than what she represents to Conan: a reminder of the pact they once made, a sacred vow to burn brightly and leave nothing on the table. “They have this pact, a prayer to live a life that is full-throated and fearless,” Zub recounts. “And when they die, even Gods shall gasp at the loss.”

    Of course, this caliber of storytelling wouldn’t be possible without the extraordinary talents of the artists bringing Zub’s vision to life. De la Torre and Braithwaite, in particular, have proven themselves more than worthy of the challenge, crafting images of stunning power and raw beauty that seem to leap off the page.

    The Art? Hits.

    Zub’s vivid reimagining of Conan’s world is brought to breathtaking life by the artists he collaborates with. Chief among these are Rob De la Torre and Doug Braithwaite, two illustrators whose styles perfectly capture the savage beauty and primal energy of the Hyborian Age.

    For Zub, working with De la Torre was a long-held ambition. “Rob De la Torre is my number one choice,” he enthuses. “I had seen his artwork and had been blown away by how it purely channeled that visceral pulp energy from the classic comics. It has strains of Big John Buscema, Frazetta, and a little bit of Hal Foster and all these bits, but they still are his own thing as well.” In De la Torre’s bold lines and dynamic compositions, Zub found the perfect vehicle for his vision of Conan.

    Braithwaite, too, has proven himself a master of the form, delivering page after page of jaw-dropping artwork. “Doug Braithwaite has drawn some of the best pages of his career,” Zub raves. The British artist’s work on the series has been a revelation, his intricate, moody pencils evoking the grandeur and danger of Conan’s world in equal measure.

    But what really sets these artists apart, in Zub’s eyes, is the way they’ve pushed each other to new heights. “I love this competitive nature where both artists are trying to outdo each other and make the biggest, craziest, most memorable artwork possible,” he grins. 

    The results speak for themselves. 

    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts
    • Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts

    Flipping through the pages of Zub’s Conan, one is struck by the sheer power and dynamism of the artwork. Every panel crackles with energy, every page is a testament to the magic that can happen when a writer and artist are perfectly in sync. “When you’ve got the right artist on the right project and they know what you’re going for, they can just level it up on every single panel of every single page,” Zub effuses.

    Indeed, it’s this potent combination of Zub’s writing and De la Torre and Braithwaite’s art that makes this incarnation of Conan feel so vital, so necessary. Together, they’ve created something that feels both classic and contemporary, a thrilling distillation of everything that makes Robert E. Howard’s creation so enduring.

    And if the first year of their run is any indication, the best is yet to come. Zub and his collaborators have big plans for the Cimmerian, starting with a bold new story arc that promises to push Conan to his limits – and beyond.

    It’s Just Going and Going and…

    Issue #9 kicked off a brand new story arc, one that will see the Cimmerian face challenges unlike any he’s encountered before. “Rob De la Torre is back, and it’s the first chapter of The Age Unconquered,” Zub teases. “And I don’t think anyone knows for sure what’s coming next, except our creative team.”

    What we do know is that Zub and his collaborators are pulling out all the stops. “These [first 12 comics] have to be our calling card for a new era of Conan in comics,” Zub declares. “We have to tell the biggest, craziest, most awesome story we can and prove to the readership that we are earning their dollar every single month.”

    It’s a bold statement, but one backed up by the sheer ambition and scope of what Zub has planned. The new arc promises to be a non-stop thrill ride, packed with shocking twists, pulse-pounding action, and emotional gut-punches. “If you missed it on release day,” Zub warns, “you’re kicking yourself because you can’t believe what’s going to happen each issue, whether it’s in the art or the storytelling, the colors, just the excitement that we wanted to try and build.”

    But perhaps the most tantalizing tidbit Zub drops about the upcoming storyline is the revelation that it will feature a crossover with another of Robert E. Howard’s most iconic creations: Kull the Conqueror. 

    Zub is cagey about the specifics, but hints at the stakes of this team up. “By This Axe I Rule, was directly rewritten as the first Conan tale, marking a pivotal moment in Howard’s career,” he notes, suggesting that the meeting of Kull and Conan will have profound implications for both characters – and for the wider Howardian universe.

    Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts

    By now, Zub’s passion for Conan should be undeniable. “It felt impossible that I got the chance to do this,” he admits. “If I didn’t give it anything less than 100%, I would kick myself forever.” That commitment shines through in every page, every panel, every carefully crafted line of dialogue.

    For Zub, working on Conan is a sacred trust, a chance to reconnect with the wide-eyed wonder of his youth. “Whenever I need to kind of recharge that battery,” he says, “I look at that artwork or I reread some of those old stories and think about what it felt  like when I was a kid and I saw this for the first time?”

    That sense of joy, of pure, unadulterated love for the character and his world, is what makes Zub’s Conan so special. With each new issue, he and his artistic collaborators are redefining what a Conan comic can be, pushing the boundaries of the medium and the character in bold, exciting ways.

    So steel yourself, dear reader. Sharpen your blade and prepare your mind, for the Age Unconquered is upon us. In the hands of Jim Zub and his extraordinary collaborators, the world of Conan has never felt so alive, so immediate, so utterly essential.

    Conan The Barbarian Zub’s Juicy, Juicy Guts

  • 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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