The following is an interview with John Barber [Editor-in-Chief, Pan-Universal Galactic Worldwide (or PUG Worldwide)] regarding the recent launch of a Zoop crowdfunding campaign for Conan the Barbarian: Colossal Edition, a special hardcover featuring oversized, 11″x17″, black-and-white scans of the series’ original artwork from a lineup of legends including John Buscema, Gil Kane, Barry Windsor-Smith, Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Arthur Adams, and more. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Barber about publishing the book through the newly formed Pan-Universal Galactic Worldwide (or PUG Worldwide) in collaboration with John Nee and Nate Murray, the incredible resource that crowdfunding has provided to the comic book industry, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: You recently launched a Zoop crowdfunding campaign for Conan the Barbarian: Colossal Edition. What can Conan fans and readers anticipate with this new special edition?
John Barber: The Conan Colossal Edition is going to reproduce the original art of more than 160 pages from the original run of Conan the Barbarian comics, each one in super-high resolution, with high-quality scans, printed in full color so all the detail on the (mostly) black-and-white originals shines through. This will be printed by the best printer on Earth at doing these kinds of books, one that’s had a lot of experience making these volumes and has never let fans down. That’s the basics, but I feel like that’s the bare minimum a book like this needs these days, so we’re taking it further than that.
The art that’s on display here is an overview—a cross-section—of the art from a run of comics that was hugely important to comics, historically and artistically. We have four main sections, each one leading off with historical information written by writer and editor Chris Ryall who you probably know as the former Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of IDW Publishing but who has an amazing book he wrote coming from Abrams Comicarts called the Mighty Marvel Calendar Book: A Visual History, and he’s putting that same knowledge of this material and this era of comics into play here. Plus, we have an introduction by the incomparable Roy Thomas, who was there for all of this, all to set the stage for this showcase of artwork.
Instead of picking just one Conan artist, we wanted to give an overview of the whole of that classic era. So, the first section covers John Buscema, one of the best comic artists to ever live, inked by a Murderers’ row of talented embellishers. We’ve got art from all the different Conan comics, from Conan the Barbarian, to King Conan, to the black–and-white Savage Sword of Conan magazine, putting pages in chronological order so you can see how Buscema evolved as an artist.
Next up is Barry Windsor-Smith, who’s more linked to Conan than perhaps any other artist, and who is, of course, an artist of peerless magnificence whose work elevated (and continues to elevate) the medium. We’ve got a full story from Windsor-Smith (“Devil-Wings Over Shadizar” from Conan the Barbarian #6, written by Thomas), as well as a bunch of pages, covers, and more. “Devil-Wings” is a crucial comic, in my opinion, as you can really see him evolving to become a more mature artist as the comic goes on.
Third, we’ve got an extensive section on Gil Kane, who was also super-influential and important to Conan artists, and again is one of the all-time greats. Like the other two artists, his pages are presented in chronological order across all the publications, and really being able to dig in and see how different inkers affected the final art is fascinating, especially with Kane.
Fourth and finally, we end with a HUGE section with some greats who are either extremely important to Conan or who are greats that maybe weren’t as associated with everybody’s favorite Cimmerian, from Jim Lee to Alex Toth, Neal Adams to Geof Isherwood, Jorge Zaffino to Kevin Nowlan, Howard Chaykin to Art Adams. We’ve got some amazing covers you might remember, and more than a few surprises, plus some great sequential work, too.
BD: This new collection will be published through Pan-Universal Galactic Worldwide (or PUG Worldwide) in collaboration with John Nee and Nate Murray. What can you tell us about the impetus behind this new publishing endeavor, and what do you feel defines a “PUG” title?
JB: PUG Worldwide started life in late 2021 when John Nee started bringing together some comics folk who have certain areas of expertise. I came onboard last summer, and a lot of what we’ve done has been behind-the-scenes stuff: custom publishing, advising talent, making motion comics, video games, tabletop games, and collectables. We’ve put out a tabletop game called Everyone Thinks This Game Is Awesome from Erasmus Fox, which is an imprint of ours.
The goal though is to make the coolest stuff in the universe for the greatest fans anywhere, as John Nee puts it. So, Conan Colossal Edition is kind of the kick-off to that, and we’ll be announcing other big licenses for art books and unique comics (and comics-adjacent) projects. John’s our CEO; Nate’s our Publisher—we’ve got a few other people, but we’re small and scrappy.
To us, a PUGW project is about bringing cool material to people who want it and trying to reach the places fans are today.
BD: Crowdfunding has proven to be a phenomenal resource for comic book creators and publishers. What encouraged you to utilize Zoop for this project, and how would you describe your experience with the process thus far?
JB: Crowdfunding has been huge, not just to actually fund projects (though it’s great for that, and I’m a big comics-crowdfunding supporter for small publishers and self-publishers!) but also to reach fans who maybe don’t go to a comic book store every week and might not see something if it gets dropped on Amazon.
The Conan Colossal Edition is a big book, and we’re very much looking forward to seeing it in bookstores, but a place like Zoop gives fans that instant opportunity to, as soon as they hear about the project, immediately order their copy and have it delivered right to them.
Zoop specifically, though—we’ve known the team at Zoop for a while; I’ve been talking with them about doing something there myself, but for Conan Colossal Edition, one thing that was particularly attractive was that they did a really successful job on the Winter Men Artist Edition a while back. It was convenient that they have a relationship with the same great printer we do to keep the quality to the demanding standards fans of classic comic art (reasonably!) require.
And Zoop has been extremely excited about this project, just like we have been, so it’s been tremendous working with them. They’ve been very, very important in making this happen, in helping us to get the word out, and in making this campaign something special.
BD: Are there any specific backer rewards or variants that you’re most excited about with the campaign and wish to share with readers?
JB: I’m such a Roy Thomas fan, I have to pick the easy answer here—the Roy Thomas autographed edition. He’s a legend, and decades ago I ran into him at a convention in line for Kinkos at the San Diego Convention Center—this was back when it was Kinkos—and he was going to scan some original art and he was clearly excited about it. I loved that, that he’d done so much but still loved this stuff.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
JB: There is a whole lot coming! We’ve got a line of 3D comics coming soon, reprinting classic comics from a few different sources. Meanwhile John Nee’s co-written a novel called The Murder of Mr. Ma with S.J. Rozan that’s coming from SoHo press in April, that we packaged. And for me, I’m excited that we have a new comic coming out from me and Andrew Griffith, my long-time collaborator on Transformers comics. This new comic is a science-fiction mecha story called Signa. I’m very excited about that!
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Conan the Barbarian: Colossal Edition?
JB: I can’t say enough about designer Ian Chalgren, who’d been working on books like this—presenting original art in a large format—on his own. He’s been featured on Cartoon Kayfabe, and he’s been doing some great design and lettering work elsewhere, and he’s pulled out all the stops on this. The attention to detail, the care, the love of the material all shines through, thanks to Ian!