Making of a Cover...King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel #1

02/08/2011 10:57am
Before King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel #1 hits store shelves later this month, check out Dark Horse editor Philip Simon's behind the scenes look at the making of fan-favorite Darick Robertson's amazing cover of the first issue!

When I asked Darick Robertson if he'd be willing to draw four King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel covers for us, I pretty much knew he'd jump at the chance. Darick had already gushed about his long-held admiration for the character, the original Robert E. Howard stories, and Conan's general mindset and values in those stories. Darick had already leapt into Dark Horse's REH universe with exciting cover contributions to our Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders series and with his own deeply personal work in the Conan: The Weight of the Crown one-shot issue, which Darick wrote and drew. Darick was so eager to continue working on Conan, his overachieving brain had already been plotting out a follow-up to Conan: The Weight of the Crown and his restless hands had already been been sketching out Conan covers, in case he got another chance at a cover run! I knew it had to happen.

Here's a look at a rough sketch that Darick was working on before I officially offered him the King Conan four-issue cover gig. While working on Conan: The Weight of the Crown, Darick and I talked about Howard's original Conan stories and some of the motifs and themes that Howard circled back to time and time again. We noted that Conan emerges as the sole survivor on the wrong side of several huge, one-sided battles in the original stories--so Darick was possibly thinking along those lines, as well as channeling a bit of his idol Frank Frazetta, as he worked out this piece in which Conan faces impossible odds on a blood-drenched battlefield. In the rough sketch that Darick was noodling with, you see Conan atop a heap of armored brutes (in true Frazetta fashion!), with some dragons about to enter the fray in the background... Yep, those were initially dragons in what I'll call Darick's "Impossible Odds" sketch here...

Once I was able to officially offer the run of four King Conan covers to Darick, we read over the beginning of the original story to see what scene Darick could start with, and I realized pretty quickly that he already had the King Conan #1 cover in his pocket! Synchronicity and forward movement! With some minor changes (the dragons became the war elephants--or "oliphants"--from the original story, and the chaos got notched up several levels), we realized that Darick could hone this "Impossible Odds" sketch to illustrate a section from the original Robert E. Howard story: "The oliphants sounded a fanfare of triumph all over the plain, and the hoofs of the victors crunched in the breasts of the vanquished as all the straggling, shining lines converged inward like the spokes of a glittering wheel, to the spot where the last survivor still waged unequal strife." 

With some notched-up chaos and newly-inserted "war oliphants," this is the line art that Darick arrived at...

When the final inks showed up, I was a bit concerned with how successfully chaotic it turned out! I had to lean on one of Dark Horse's go-to colorists, Dave Stewart, for a little help to "pull out" the things we wanted readers to notice right off the bat as the comic sat on the stands: King Conan, of course, and the immediate battle and bodies around him. Dave's the kind of colorist who instinctively knows what to pull out in an illustration--especially one that has so much black ink in it to begin with--and Dave delivered a color piece that shows chaos, but a "controlled chaos" that now leads the viewer's eyes to Conan's rage and the immediate flurry around him, with some of the background details (like the soldier being tossed in the air by a war oliphant!) still showing up--but not distracting the eye from our central figure...

This was the first of three fine collaborations between Darick and Dave. With the lead time we had, Darick got his run of covers in early, we actually rearranged the order of the two middle covers to match the script better, and we were also able to get illustrator Richard P. Clark on board to color Darick's final cover. So King Conan covers #1 to #3 are colored by Dave Stewart, with our final King Conan cover colored by Clark--who also collaborated with Darick on interior art in Dark Horse's The Guild: Vork comic book!

Later this month, when King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel debuts, our Conan the Cimmerian creative team moves on to their first mini-series with a much older Conan. Timothy Truman, Tomás Giorello, and José Villarrubia are definitely stepping up their game--but you're in for a treat, too, with Darick Robertson's cover run. Look for pure, unfiltered Conan fun, from a professional at the top of his game who's also a huge Conan fan! You can also find Darick's Conan: The Weight of the Crown story, along with a sixteen-page prequel story, in the Conan Volume 10: Iron Shadows in the Moon and Other Stories collection--coming this May!

Best Wishes to Conan's Fans, -Furious Phil Simon, editing during waking hours

King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel #1 is in stores February 23rd.
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