The Cimmerian Vol. 1

The Cimmerian Vol. 1
The Cimmerian Vol. 1 review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Ablaze - 978-1-95091-220-9
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2018, 2019
  • English language release date: 2021
  • UPC: 9781950912209
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

John Buscema drew Conan for so long and his work has been reprinted so often it’s a rare American sword and sorcery fan who doesn’t instantly visualise his statuesque Conan at the mention of the name. Some perhaps consider the powerful Frank Frazetta book covers, or the less bulky Conan of Barry Windsor-Smith, but that’s still within the boundaries of an illustrative approach. It’s quite the shift, then to accommodate Pierre Alary’s cartoon version of Conan gracing the cover of this first volume reprinting the character as interpreted by a succession of French artists. Make that shift. It’s worth it.

This is Conan, referred to as such inside with the title presumably a way of avoiding lawsuits from whoever currently owns the trademark. We should be grateful to Ablaze for taking the risk as the writing also differs from the reverential attitude toward the works of Robert E. Howard in English. In the opening adaptation of ‘Queen of the Black Coast’, Jean-David Morvan sticks to the essence of the plot, but supplies Conan himself with a far more modern nod and wink narrative, as if being played by Bruce Willis in an action movie. This works best over the opening pages featuring a spectacular escape scene Morvan expands from the original text, but while keeping to spirit of how Howard wrote Belit, the queen of the title, fans may remain unconvinced by Morvan’s interpretation of her first meeting Conan. If you want to compare, Howard’s short story appears after the adaptation.

‘Red Nails’ was Howard’s final Conan story, or the final one he completed, and much loved among Conan fans. It’s easy to see why, as who wouldn’t want to see the result of Conan coming up against what he considers a dragon, but is drawn to resemble a form of dinosaur. As with the previous story, the text is presented after the comics, so it’s apparent Régis Hautière has tinkered slightly to ensure a greater visual impact, but without altering Howard’s intentions. The story broadens, and the visual possibilities again expand on those intentions. He used names echoing old Latin American civilisations, but artist Didier Cassegrain (working from Olivier Vatine’s layouts) infuses the illustrations with suitable regional architectural decorations.

The stories are a study in artistic contrasts. Beyond the dinosaurs, Cassegrain feeds everything through a mistiness and shows the city of Xuchotl’s interiors from distance to emphasise the grandeur. Alary prefers to take the viewpoint in close, packs the panels and relishes the movement and action. They are two different stories, so it’s not comparing like for like, but Alary’s kinetic approach is the more enjoyable read.

Much is made on the back cover blurb of these being uncensored adaptations, but libertines beware as this pairing at least hardly features all-out graphic sex, and they actually tone the violence down a little from some English language adaptations. Vol. 2 features adaptations of ‘People of the Magic Circle’ and ‘The Frost Giant’s Daughter’. Or all four volumes are combined in a slipcased edition.