A crossover event over fifteen years in the making, the first issue of Dark Horse and Dynamite’s Conan Red Sonja goes on sale this week, and promises an epic story spanning the lives of these iconic characters as they unite to overcome a sinister sorceror-priest.
So, to get you guys in the mood, we sat down with the co-writers of the series, Gail Simone and Jim Zub, and had a chat about just what we can expect to see in the pages of this eagerly anticipated series.
BCP: Firstly, thanks to both of you for taking the time to chat with us. Now, this crossover was initially announced back in 2013 at NYCC, I believe, as a collaboration between Gail and Brian Wood. So Gail, how did the project come about in the first place, and why did it end up taking so long for it to finally come together?
GAIL: Oh, just the usual stuff. We had two publishers and two licensors and that stuff adds up. Plus, no one wanted a rush job, we all wanted something that people would want to keep on their shelf and re-read. If anything, we maybe announced it a little too early.
It’s one of those books that is worth waiting for, I think, it’s just a huge broad spectacle.
BCP: Jim, how did you end up being involved?
JIM: Gail contacted me in late 2013 and asked if I might be interested in collaborating on this mini-series and I jumped at the chance. Two of my favorite characters, a legendary team-up, and a creative dream team – how could I not?
GAIL: Yeah, and thank god he did. Jim did amazing work on this.
BCP: The series is described as “spanning multiple eras in the lives of these classic characters”. Can you tell us a little more about how that storytelling dynamic is going to work?
JIM: Over the four issue mini-series we show 3 different eras for the characters as they’re pulled back together to deal with an evil that develops over the years. As the threat grows, both Conan and Red Sonja are getting older and more mature.
GAIL: It’s something I love about the icons, they’re fun at all the points of their lives…Batman as a kid in Year One, Batman as an old man in Dark Knight, that’s what we are going for, here.
BCP: It’s definitely an epic storyline, in every sense of the word. With that in mind, what has the collaborative process been like between the pair of you? Did you each take a turn at the scripting, or was it more back-and-forth?
JIM: As far as the story development, Gail and I brainstormed elements we thought were essential to making this a real epic tale and then started bouncing it back and forth, pacing it out, refining those elements until they worked as a whole. We wanted to tell a big sprawling sword & sorcery tale that spanned years as Conan and Sonja meet at different key points in their lives.
In terms of scripting, it’s been a ‘tennis match’. After the overall story pacing is worked out, each of us writes a full script section and ‘serves it’ over to the other, who writes the next part while making small refinements to dialogue or pacing as it moves forward. It’s been a creative challenge, but one that I think is bringing out some great qualities from both of our writing styles.
GAIL: I dug it. I haven’t done much collaborative writing, so I am fortunate that I get to work with writers I trust, like Jim on this project and Rhianna Pratchett on Tomb Raider.
I just thought it’d be fun to have a dude writer representing a more male point of view, it seemed like that would create some fun friction on the pages. And it did, it feels like Conan and Sonja are genuinely coming from two different places, despite their similarities.
BCP: Gail, your run on Red Sonja has been incredibly well received by newcomers to the franchise as and long-time fans alike. What do you feel the key is to writing a compelling Sonja story?
GAIL: I think the whole fun of Sonja is that she does what she damn well pleases. She doesn’t claim to be Captain America, she’s horny and thirsty and doesn’t mind a good scrap. God help me, I adore her. We all need a little Sonja in our lives.
BCP: I guess it’s safe to say that a lot of readers unfamiliar with Red Sonja have a tendency to look at the character, scantily clad in her chainmail bikini, and dismiss her as just a stereotypical male fantasy, when in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. Do you ever find it a struggle to try and overcome the way she’s often portrayed as little more than a sex object, visually at least, particularly on some of the Sonja covers?
GAIL: Here’s the thing, when I was a kid, and I know a lot of people of all kinds did this as well, I would often take a character I liked and imagine them behaving in a way that made more sense to me. When I read a Lois Lane story, and she just wanted a husband, I would imagine her having real adventures, you know?
Sonja is that way for me, I know she has been portrayed sometimes as a pin-up, but she was ALSO usually portrayed as a complete take-no-prisoners badass. That was the thing that was always her core, to me. And now I am in this weird and wonderful position that I get to share that version of her with other people who also see her as more than a bikini.
JIM: When I sat down to write ‘Red Sonja and Cub’ I reread a lot of the stories and it really struck me how multi-faceted she is. The majority of readers don’t want Sonja the sex object and they don’t want the invulnerable “strong female” cold cliché either. One of the things I really enjoy about Gail’s current run on the series is how flawed she’s made Sonja. The She-Devil is loud, bull-headed, cocky, and foolish at times and I think it makes for a much richer character who can grow and learn.
BCP: Now Jim, you’ve written a couple of Red Sonja series’ yourself in the past, most notably Dynamite’s Red Sonja and Cub, which I absolutely loved in spite of feeling that you may have been held back a little by the limited page count. Are you excited about having the luxury of an entire four-part series to stamp your mark on these two iconic characters?
JIM: Yeah, absolutely! Writing ‘Red Sonja and Cub’ was a delight, though there was a lot to get in there, and this is even bigger and more encompassing. Covering a longer period of time meant we didn’t have to pick just one era of Conan and Red Sonja to work with. We had the chance to write the headstrong troublemakers and the mature warriors back to back in one epic story.
BCP: You’ve both regularly professed your love for the fantasy genre over the years, something your ‘back catalogues’ definitely confirms. How exciting is it for you as a fans to be able to tackle the undisputed ‘power couple’ of fantasy comics?
JIM: Given the pedigree of the characters and the rest of the creative team, it’s a definite milestone project. Being able to say I had a hand in writing a new Conan and Red Sonja crossover, let alone one as big and far reaching as this one, is a real point of pride.
Gail pitched it to me like one of those giant event crossovers of the 70’s: Superman VS Muhammad Ali, or Superman VS Spider-Man. She wanted to really crank things up and make a story for the ages. This is something I can show anyone, comic fan or not, and they’ll understand how big a deal it is.
GAIL: Yeah, I only wanted to do it if it counted, if it felt like an epic. It’s the two greatest sword and sorcery characters ever created. Let someone else tell the boring stories, this one has to POP.
BCP: The Conan character has been portrayed extremely differently by a lot of different writers over the years. What kind of style of Conan are you guys going for with this series?
JIM: Gail and I generally took our cues from Robert E. Howard and Roy Thomas, but we also wanted to make sure the character wasn’t all bravado and rage. There’s a sense of great loss and humanity after Belit’s death that was well portrayed by Brian Wood and I know that influenced us along the way.
GAIL: We tried to take some of the best bits of many different portrayals and make one guy out of them.
BCP: On that same point, one thing I was personally really happy about from the first issue was the nice balance struck between deadly serious ‘swords and sorcery’ bluster and the light-hearted banter between Conan and Sonja. Was it important for you to find that ‘sweet spot’?
JIM: Thanks! Although the story is quite serious and dramatic, I think variety is crucial. Even when you’re building an epic it’s important to let a bit of humor in. I would never take the humor in this story as far as I do in Skullkickers or D&D: Legends of Baldur’s Gate, but a bit of levity humanizes the characters and keeps the tone from getting too mired in its own gravitas.
GAIL: People don’t know that R.E.H. wrote some seriously funny stuff. He had great comedy chops, with a really darkly understated tone. Conan’s not usually a laugh riot, but he has definitely shown a sardonic sense of humor at times.
BCP: Moving on, the first issue also features some truly impressive visual moments. How have you found the work of artist Dan Panosian on the series?
JIM: Gail and I have been collaborating closely and Dave Marshall, our editor at Dark Horse, has been handling the art management brilliantly. He put together a killer art team and let them loose on our script. Dan’s an absolute pro and with Dave Stewart on colors it’s an unstoppable team. The smartest thing we could do is step back and let them do what they do best.
GAIL: I didn’t know Dan or Dave that much in advance. Dan did one of my favorite covers of THE MOVEMENT, and I wrote him a fan letter over it. But I hadn’t seen that much of his work. Then the pages started to come in, and we realized how special this book was going to be. It was already phenomenal just with Dan’s work, then Dave got hold of them and just sent them to the moon. I couldn’t be more thrilled…people are sick of hearing me talk about this art on this book.
BCP: Okay, so how about a purely hypothetical question – let’s say these two characters end up in a fight to the death, no loopholes or get-outs. Who lives, who dies, and why?
JIM: Hmmm, I think you better read issue 3 for the best answer we could give to that question… right, Gail? :)
GAIL: It’s Sonja. Come on, we all know it’s Sonja.
BCP: And finally, it’s shilling time! What else do you both have in the works right now that our readers should be looking out for?
JIM: I have lots of different projects on the go right now. My two creator-owned series Wayward and Skullkickers are published by Image. D&D: Legends of Baldur’s Gate and Samurai Jack, published by IDW. I’m writing back-up stories for Munchkin, being published by Boom. I’m also doing new comic stories set in the Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors animated series continuity for Marvel. Busy, busy.
GAIL: I am doing a ton of stuff. Red Sonja’s ongoing book, Secret Six, my first Vertigo book CLEAN ROOM, finishing up TOMB RAIDER with the wonderful Rhianna Pratchett, and helming a huge fun Women of Dynamite crossover called SWORDS OF SORROW. Plus stuff I can’t mention yet, you snoopy bastard!
BCP: On that note, let me thank you again for your time. It’s pretty obvious how busy you guys are at the moment, so taking the time to chat is very much appreciated.
Conan Red Sonja #1 goes on sale on Wednesday 14th January 2014, where all good comics are sold.