|“Sabed, oh Principe…|
“…que entre los años en que los océanos enguilleron Atlantis y sus resplandecientes ciudades, y el surgir de los hijoes de Aryas…
“…hubo una edad no soñada.”
Brillantes reinos se esparacían por el mundo como mantos azules bao las estrellas.
“Nemedia, Ofir, Brithunia, Hiperbórea…”
“Zamora, con sus mujeres de oscuros cabellos y sus torres plagadas de arácnidos misterios…”
“Zingara y su gallardía, Koth, que lindaba con las tierras de pastoreo de Shem.
“Estigia, con sus tumbas custodiadas por sombras.
“E Hirkania, cuyos jinetes vestían de acero, seda y oro.
“Pero el reino más orgulloso del mundo era Aquilonia, que reinaba suprema en el oeste.
“Ya hacía años que allí regia el poderoso Rey Conan, el cimmerio, aquel que fue guerrero, ladrón, pirata y saqueador antes que gran monarca.
“Y llegó el tiempo en que una sombra se agitó en las junglas Pictas que dormitaban al oesta de Aquilonia.”
|“Know, oh Prince…|
“…that between the years when the oceans engulfed Atlantis and her resplendent cities, and the rise of the sons of Aryas…
“There was an untold age.”
Brilliant kingdoms spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars.
“Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea…”
“Zamora, with its dark-haired women and its towers plagued by arachnid mysteries…”
“Zingara and her chivalry, Koth, which bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem.
“Stygia, with its shadow-guarded tombs.
“And Hyrkania, whose horsemen wore steel, silk, and gold.
“But the proudest kingdom in the world was Aquilonia, which reigned supreme in the west.
“It had been years since the mighty King Conan, the Cimmerian, ruled there, the one who was a warrior, thief, pirate, and plunderer before being a great monarch.
“And the time came when a shadow stirred in the Pictish jungles that slept west of Aquilonia.”
So begins Sangre Bárbara (“Barbarian Blood,” 2021, Karras Comics). It is a fitting opening, with a variation of the incipit that Robert E. Howard wrote for “The Phoenix on the Sword,” which was the very first Conan the Cimmerian story, and which ran as a masthead across the Marvel Conan the Barbarian comics for decades, and even ran in a slightly different form at the beginning of the Conan the Barbarian (1982) film that starred Arnold Schwarzeneggar. The opening sets the mood; it immediately places the reader in the time and place for the action, and then the story opens…
As with The Barbarian King 1: Le Spade Spezzate (2019) by Massimo Rosi & Alessio Landi and The Song of Bêlit (2020) by Rodolfo Martínez, this is an original work which takes advantage of the fact that Robert E. Howard’s characters and fiction have fallen into the public domain in Europe. The creators of this graphic novel are El Torres (script), Joe Bocardo (pen & inks), & Manoli Martínez (colorist); the logo was designed by Ferran Delgado.
Like The Barbarian King, Sangre Bárbara is set after the series of stories written by Robert E. Howard, giving the creators a freer hand in writing the adventure. Unlike that work, the principal character in the story is not Conan of Cimmeria…although he is still very much in the story…it is his son, the Prince Conan. A lean young man with the lean build and close-cropped hair of a boxer or legionnaire, scouting in the Pictish wilderness over the Aquilonian border, much as his father did in “Beyond the Black River.”
The story that follows wears several of its literary and artistic influences openly: the iconography of the 1982 film runs through the book like a river, from the cover to almost the last page. There is strong dedication to the original Howard texts, as shown in the opening. And there are hints of suggestions from the Marvel comics as well; I wouldn’t liken it to any kind of borrowing, but more of an inspiration: there was a storyline in Marvel’s Conan the King series titled “The Prince is Dead” which might have been the seed of this story…but Karras Comics takes the storyline much further than Marvel would ever have dared.
There is nudity, and there is gore; the writers and artist get away with it because they finally can—the same way the writers and artists of the French Glénat adaptations, and the Italian Leviathan Labs The Barbarian King books. Conan comics have almost always been a little more mature than the standard superhero fare, a little more bloody and sexy and visceral, but they have never been primarily ago either sex or blood. There are plenty of pornographic and horror comics that go in for plenty of each, if those are what readers want; so the trick for Conan comics nowadays is finding the right balance—in 2006, Dark Horse released a nude cover for Conan the Barbarian #24, and that was too much for some. In Sangre Bárbara, for the story being told and the atmosphere being set, it is certainly not much more explicit than in the 1982 film.
When reading this neo-Howardiana, it is interesting to see the choices that the writers and artists make in the depiction of the Hyborian Age. In this particular case, it is notable how racially diverse the cast is. Robert E. Howard held many of the racial prejudices one would expect of a young white man who grew up primarily in small towns in Texas; it was mentioned in the memoir One Who Walked Alone (1986) by Novalyne Price Ellis how Cross Plains was a sundown town. Some of this 1930s Texas racial stratification made it into Howard’s tales of the Hyborian Age—and some of that was continued in the Conan pastiches by other authors, which is why Charles R. Saunders wrote “Die Black Dog! A Look At Racism In Fantasy Literature” (1975, rev. 2011)—but they aren’t essential to it. Of course you can have Black characters in the Hyborian Age. Why not?
It is difficult not to compare Sangre Bárbara and The Barbarian King, since both works are branching off from similar premises, but they go about their work very differently. The Barbarian King is more acid sword & sorcery, heavier on the magic and the melancholy, the dream-like sequences and monstrous clash of color. Sangre Bárbara is much more gritty, subdued, and realistic; there is sorcery, but it isn’t bolts of flame erupting from fingertips, and the conflicts in the story are more complex than just a math problem of how many bodies can be piled up with a sword. There is a constant thread on the nature of civilization that runs through the story…right down to the last, and my favorite page.
As regards African-legend sources, I well remember the tales I listened to and shivered at, when a child in the “piney woods” of East Texas, where Red River marks the Arkansaw and Texas boundaries. There were quite a number of old slave darkies still living then. The one to whom I listened most was the cook, old Aunt Mary Bohannon who was nearly white—about one sixteenth negro, I should say.Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, c. Sep 1930, A Means to Freedom 1.44
This is, as far as I am aware, the first appearance of Mary Bohannon in comic book or graphic novel—and I like the sentiment, that to honor the past does not mean to be bound to every part of it irrevocably, and that the future remains to be written. The adventures of Conan are far from over, there are tales of the Hyborian Age left to tell—and maybe they will be a little more mature in more ways than just enough blood and nudity to ensure an NC-17 rating, but in what stories they tell and how, and how race fits into the age undreamed of. Certainly, this is a good start.
Sangre Bárbara can be purchased from Karras Comics; they are working on other new works based on Robert E. Howard’s stories and characters as well.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.
Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.