The name of Conan of Cimmeria is well known to most fans of fantasy, though most associate it with the 1982 movie that made a star of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yet that movie would never have existed had it not been for the 1970s Marvel Comics series, which was adapted from the original stories of Texas author Robert E. Howard.

Howard originally spun his tales of Conan in Weird Tales magazine throughout the 1930s and his original stories have been in the public domain for quite some time outside of the United States. This led French comics publisher Glenat to start producing their own comic book adaptations of Howard’s Conan stories and American publisher Ablaze to start publishing English translations of those adaptations. There was a brief legal battle with the Conan Properties company that manages the license in the United States, but eventually it was agreed the comics could be published under the name The Cimmerian.

This first volume of The Cimmerian collects the adaptations of two of Howard’s most popular stories: Queen of the Black Coast and Red Nails. These stories are largely popular because they introduced two of Howard’s most notable heroines: the pirate queen Belit and Valeria of the Red Brotherhood.

One of the cruel ironies of Howard’s life is that he favored writing women warriors to damsels in distress, yet helpless women are more commonly associated with the sword-and-sorcery genre that Howard pioneered. The image of a shrieking, near-naked maiden clinging to the hero’s leg has become synonymous with Conan thanks to the liberties of more than a few artists and it seems likely this would have annoyed Howard to no end.

I mention this little factoid because the major selling point behind The Cimmerian series was that, since it was being produced by a European publisher, it would be free of the puritan standards of the American comic book industry. This series was promoted as being “the true Conan… unrestrained, violent, and sexual… just as Robert E. Howard intended.” The irony is that while Howard was not above putting a bit of sex appeal into his stories, he mainly did this to cater to the artistic preferences of Weird Tales cover artist Margaret Brundage (who loved painting women in peril) because the writers whose stories were chosen to inspire the cover art got paid more.

Unfortunately, those hoping to see such famous scenes as the mating dance of Belit or a naked and unafraid Valeria slitting the throat of the witch who intended to sacrifice her will feel cheated. For all the talk of this adaptation being bloodier and more sexual than the American Conan comics, there is nothing here that would rate higher than an OT (Older Teen) rating, at most, in terms of nudity and sexual content. Just a few mostly bare bottoms and some side-boob. Indeed, it is comical how far the artists go to avoid showing nipples when the female characters are naked to the waist.

Beyond that, these comics do not really succeed as adaptations. The artwork on Queen of the Black Coast is muddied and the action is crammed into too small a space, so it is hard to tell just what is happening in most of the action sequences. Red Nails is better paced but is drawn as a more generic fantasy work than the historic “pirates versus Meso-American cultists” story Howard wrote it as. Tellingly, Valeria spends most of the story in a halter and breechcloth rather than the breeches and silk shirt described in Howard’s original text, which is also included in this volume.

In the end, it is hard to say who The Cimmerian might appeal to. Howard purists will dislike the divergencies from the original text. Those hoping for a more adult sword-and-sorcery experience than those published by Marvel Comics and Dynamite Entertainment will be sorely disappointed, as there is nothing here that lives up to the series’ hype. In fact, despite being promoted as an adults-only comic, this series is rated OT for older teens and that’s largely because of the violence. All in all, most librarians would be better off investing in the Conan omnibus editions than this series.


The Cimmerian, vol. 1
By Régis Hautière, Jean-David Morvan, Robert Howard
Art by  Pierre Alary, Didier Cassegrain, Olivier Vatine
Ablaze, 2021
ISBN: 9781950912209
Publisher Age Rating:  15+ Only
Series ISBNS and Order
Related media:  Book to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

  • Matt

    | He/Him Librarian

    Reviewer

    A librarian with over 10 years experience in public and academic settings, Matthew Morrison has been blogging about comic books for nearly as long as they’ve had a word for it.  Over the past two decades, he has written regular columns, commentary, parodies and reviews for such websites and blogs as Fanzing, 411 Mania, Screen Rant and Comics Nexus.  He has served as an Expert in Residence for a seminar on Graphic Novels and Comics for Youth and Adults at the University of North Texas and has given several lectures on the history of comics, manga and cosplay culture at libraries and comic conventions around the country. In addition to his work for No Flying No Tights, he is the Contributing Editor of Kabooooom.com and maintains a personal blog at MyGeekyGeekyWays.com.

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