Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Conan and the Barbarians of the Dome
The original movie (1980)
adaptation was co-written by Roy Thomas, the associate editor and writer who convinced Marvel to secure publishing rights to Robert E. Howard's works, for the purpose of creating sword and sorcery comics. Fantasy characters were not selling nearly as well as the psuedo-scientific super heroes and their modern trappings. The fantasy characters were written into the Marvel and DC Universes, but it had been years since titles set in archaic times had sold well.
English teacher Thomas took the attractive mood and poetry of the stories into the comic book idiom. His partner was a somewhat untried British artist of 19, Barry Smith, whose adventures related to his visa were as trying as those of his comic book cohort---with less swordplay, of course.
Thomas was soon to leave Marvel after working on that script. After taking the baton from Stan Lee and caretaking Marvel Comics Group, the creative end of the company, and adapting Conan to great applause for a decade, he had gone Hollywood---at least a while---and been on the end of moving Conan from paperback reprints to comic books. Now, he would help ferry the Cimmerian across the waters to a new medium, movies, where he returns, today. Since then, artist Cary Nord and Dark Horse Comics have returned Conan the comic book character, now with writing handled by Tim Truman.
It's not unfair to say Frank Frazetta's paperback covers for Lancer and the Marvel Comics did more to bring Conan back in the late 20th century than even its source material could, while at the same time invoking a resurgence in a talented, if turgid, writer, Robert E. Howard of Crossplains, Texas, a frustrated Romantic poet writing two-fisted tales. He wrote, in 1936, to Sir Ashton Clark Smith:
“It may sound fantastic to link the term 'realism' with Conan; but as a matter of fact - his supernatural adventures aside - he is the most realistic character I ever evolved. He is simply a combination of a number of men I have known, and I think that's why he seemed to step full-grown into my consciousness when I wrote the first yarn of the series. Some mechanism in my sub-consciousness took the dominant characteristics of various prize-fighters, gunmen, bootleggers, oil field bullies, gamblers, and honest workmen I had come in contact with, and combining them all, produced the amalgamation I call Conan the Cimmerian".
He was a man who saw the direction of civilization becoming more constricting, and sadly, his world became too alone. But his call to throw off the weakness and lies that so hounded his mind echoes even today.
My personal encounter with the savage life
It was the Dome Tribe summer I'll remember best, 2001, when there were the most lights and hopes and friendship amongst our ever-changing cohort of collegians and free spirits. Dome Tribe was a nickname, a term of affection, for the loosely -confederated group of friends who would come by this very special private home, and if there was such a thing as a homecoming anniversary for this, it was Memorial Day Weekend, each year.
I remember spending a large early chunk of the full weekend Discordian party Chris hosted with his best friends some miles outside Tuscaloosa, Alabama, chattering away with my good pal Johann about a character near and dear to his heart, Conan the Barbarian. Johann arrived with my sweetheart, Delta Dawn, and others who had carpooled out to this modest little paradise of campers and long weekend creatures. No jealousy, no cruelty, no lies, and much dancing; you couldn't help but wish the cajun gumbo and pretty people to meet would last forever beside the fire, for which we all gathered kindling, lighting the early morning until the sun's arrival.
Did I mention I sat holding hands with a lovely topless friend, sitting gracefully under the canopy of trees beside the Dome house? Yes, there are lots of nice ways to share energy in this world. I felt called by the pagan and bohemian way of disregarding a few unnecessary hang ups. To be a little free of civilization is to remember the relative place in history for all these things that seem to jam the hours with advertising and images not our own.
While sitting out under the canopy of trees, surrounded by my friend's friends and my friends, too, we listened to the music pumping out of the geodesic Dome hidden in the woods, and talked about what made a barbarian a unique being from the types of characters who thought of themselves as heroes, for whatever reason.
I'll never forget: I'd started earlier that week with CONAN THE BARBARIAN #131,All covers copyright Marvel Entertainment Group. This one's drawn by Gil Kane. purchased in an antique store downtown, and getting broadsided by that early '80s Marvel Magic. The infernal ring and Gil Kane art bonded me to Conan reading for at least the next month or so, which in turn encouraged me to write a female scout/ translator's journey, within caverns inspired by the subterranean formations in New Mexico, in the spirit of the biographies I read about Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. Then, inspired by our friend Rachel's adventures translating a native language on the island of Aruba in the coming weeks, our heroine became both scout and translator, and the maguffin became dependent upon a larger story based on discovering languages. We were students of three foreign languages at the time, so the power of translation seemed a prime candidate to become a source for heavenly powers. Along with that scholastically-flavored bent, I became personally attached to this style of hero and story, with its wish to be a lyric in the grimness of the world.
It was unbeatable, just being ourselves, well-rounded enough now that a passion for some old pulp character was an easily-accepted eccentricity.
I was reminded of playing as a child, rushing about attacking enemies and destroying them with utmost imaginary effort.
I carried the fun I had from that conversation home with me to explore the rest of the box of Conan comics, read a few feet from the air conditioner on humid June days on the second floor of Merrimac Arms, a block away from a University parking lot. My interest in fantasy to that point was practically nil, but here well into adulthood's first steps, after testing my mind and curiosity with four years of college, my urge to write, my proclivity to search for romance, and my inspiration set me loose to try the biggest story I had ever written, basing each chapter off the seven chakras.
I can't tell you here about all the discoveries that came that summer, but it was sweet, exciting, a glimpse into some other way to look at love and risk and the networks people build for strength and inspiration, which can still never protect us too much from what we must find the strength to do alone, or only with our closest companions. Like Conan, whose god Crom requires no prayer and offers no special guidance, we are asked to rely on ourselves for decisions, and we can turn to some inner light for guidance, but we will only be as strong as we decide we need, to survive. If we expect the strength of others, we will find bitter disappointment sometimes. You can only hope, like some Spartacus freeing the slaves, to make your stand and remember this may bring out the best in others.
It's funny that the world of a marauding warrior would be a part of this, but it's that spirit of adventure, magic, and places outside the modern world, in nature and beauty, free of the comforts that sometimes rob of us of chances we might otherwise take, memories we might otherwise create. To see the inner self as agile and courageous is to fill one's self with energy and joy.
I think, in leaving my home, I identified with Conan, who was presented as lusting for other cultures, battles, and tests and treasures and outright mysteries. It's become part of the lore from the first Conan the Barbarian movie to have Conan avenge the slaying of his people, but it's sheer wanderlust that drives the restless would-be king to so many lands, so many stations in life.
http://www.streetinsider.com/ic_landing.html Conan in 3D
Rose McGowan Jason Momoa, Ron Pearlman
Jason Momoa as Conan
Leo Howard as Young Conan
Rachel Nichols as Tamara: A beautiful and studious novitiate of a monastery trained to be the Queen’s servant, bodyguard and best friend, Conan's love interest.
Stephen Lang as Khalar Zym: A ruthless empire-building warlord. The character was originally going to be called Khalar Singh
Rose McGowan as Marique: Khalar Zym's daughter and a powerful witch.
Bob Sapp as Ukafa: Leader of Kushite Tribemen from the savannahs of Kush. Khalar Zym's lieutenant; he is "jealous that Zym’s daughter, Marigue, will one day be warlord. He obeys his leader but plots the overthrow of his daughter.
Steven O'Donnell as Lucius: Leader of Khalar Zym's "Legion of Aquilonian Mercenaries" he is disfigured in an early fight with Conan.
Diana Lubenova as Cheren: A blind archer who leads a similar band of blind archers in Khalar Zym's mercenary army.
Ron Perlman as Corin: A blacksmith, a leader of the Cimmerians and Conan's father.
Nonso Anozie as Artus: A Zamoran pirate and friend of Conan.
Saïd Taghmaoui as Ela-Shan
Milton Welsh as Remo: A "mysterious warrior of dark magic."
Raad Rawi as Fassir: An "elder monk and leader of the monastery charged with the care and education of the queen, Ilira.