Gather round, scoundrels! Grab a mug full of what pleases you and I shall tell you a tale. A thrilling story involving savage barbarians, beautiful pirates and most fearsome of all… copyright lawyers!
Yes, flee now if you lack the stomach for such things, for the book before us has fought long to reach our hands, though the very Abyss itself sought to deny us! For the beloved scribe who created Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard, is long passed from this plane and lo his works have fallen into the public domain in much of the whole wide world. This means that in far off lands like France and Italy there is naught to stop a comic creator from telling their own tales of Conan or adapting the classic scrolls according to their own designs.
So it was that the French comics publisher Glénat decided to adapt the original Conan short stories into graphic novels. And American publisher Ablaze elected to take these graphic novels and translate them into English for American audiences. This did not please the lords at the House of Marvel, whom currently own the license to spin tales of Conan in the United States.
And so was battle waged – not with honest steel but with memorandums. In the end, compromise was reached, and it was decided that the comics could be released under the name The Cimmerian. For while Marvel Comics might own the license for the name of Conan, the actual stories are free for all!
The chief selling point of the Glénat/Ablaze adaptations is that European comics are much freer in depicting sex and violence than their American counterparts. This is due to the puritan censorship that dogged the American comic book industry for two generations never gaining a foothold in Europe. It was their intention to present the stories of Robert E. Howard as they were originally written, with all of the epic violence and sexual content firmly intact.
Small wonder then that the first story they chose to adapt was Queen of the Black Coast – the story which introduced the first love of Conan’s life, the lusty pirate queen Belit. Ah, Belit! She who fell head-over-heels in love with Conan as she watched him slaughter her men and immediately offered him a position working under her, if you know what I mean and I think you do. (Thank you, Joe Bob Briggs!)
Therein lies the odd paradox of Queen of the Black Coast. On the one hand, this comic does not shy away from showing that Conan and Belit have a sexual relationship and a sex scene is introduced into the background of a famous scene from the original story where the two discuss their beliefs in the gods and the afterlife. As suggestive as this is, there is no outright nudity – at least nothing that would garner an M-rating on a cable network. Conversely, the most suggestive scene from the original story (in which Belit performs “the mating dance of Belit” after stripping down before her entire crew) doesn’t have Belit remove her clothes until after the dancing is over and the panels remain firmly focused on her face as she throws herself at Conan’s feet.
While Ablaze does deliver the promised sex and violence, this adaptation does suffer in one regard. European comics are usually printed in larger editions than American comics. As such, Ablaze seems to have shrunk the original pages down to fit a standard American comic book format, leaving many pages hard to read due to the intensive detail crammed into the relatively small panels. This is particularly true during the main action scene of the issue, where Belit’s men attack the ship on which Conan is serving as a guard.
While the book is not unreadable, one wishes this had been printed in a larger format, like the most recent round of DC Black Label comics. Despite this, the adaptation is a solid one. Thankfully, the first two parts of Queen of the Black Coast are included with this issue, so newcomers can compare the original text to the adaptation.
While The Cimmerian: Queen of the Black Coast is unlikely to win over those who aren’t already sword-and-sorcery fans, it is bound to please those who complain that Marvel and Dynamite are too polite in their renderings of the world of Hyboria. Look no further if you seek a ripping yarn that is true to the spirit of the Bard of Cross Plains.
The Cimmerian: Queen of the Black Coast #1 releases on March 4th, 2020!
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.