Thursday, 14 October 2010

Sideshow Collectibles' Conan:The Prize

When Sideshow got the Conan license I thought it was for the MOVIES. You know, Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer.
But since the first release with that great portrait of Arnold, we've had everything BUT products from the movie.
I mean the dioramas are nice but isn't there a wealth of source material from Conan the Barbarian alone?
I'm much more interested in future PFs of Arnold in various other poses or even some of the villains. 
What's the problem? Do they think it won't sell?
- DFChang on Statue Forum. His tagline: "Artificial Intelligence usually beats real stupidity." Ain't that the truth?

Conan statues are a mixed bunch.  There are some really nice ones - the Frazetta ones, for instance, are pretty top notch, but it's pretty hard to mess up Frazetta - and there are some that I don't particularly care for. I don't actually own any Conan statues, mostly since none have really made enough of an impression on me to think "I must possess this depiction of Robert E. Howard's creation."

Mostly because many of them... well, they're interpretations of interpretations. Statues of Frazetta's Conan, Buscema's Conan, Arnold's Conan - very few seem to depict Howard's Conan without being viewed through the lense of an illustrator or adaptation. This bothers me: surely a completely new interpretation of Howard's character, free from the influence of other visions, would be pretty cool?

It seemed Sideshow Collectibles felt the same, hence Conan: The Prize.

The Conan: The Prize Diorama captures the barbaric Cimmerian warrior as he braves the temple guards and rescues the young woman who would become his reward. Each piece is individually painted and finished to exacting standards, each with its own unique quality and detail that is the trademark of a handcrafted Sideshow Collectibles product. The stunning Conan: The Prize Diorama is an outstanding addition to any display.

When "The Prize" was announced, it was described as being something unlike anything that had been done in previous sculpts, as in this early behind the scenes video. Initially I had everything all typed up for convenience, but because Windows 7 is evil I lost it all, and I frankly can't motivate myself to do it all over again.

In any case, the impressively-goateed fellow spends a good minute describing how so many Conan statues are made through the point of view of another artist, or the cinematic interpretations. However, Sideshow were mandated not to base their work on any previous versions, to essentially go for the central themes of the character.  So far, I'm really excited.

And then they say what the piece is about - Conan running away with a girl tossed over his shoulder.

I can think of another name instead of "prize..."

I'm sorry, but that is not new, guys.  That is one of the five things that every Conan comic and half the illustrators have done in some fashion, to the point where it's cliched.  It's as overplayed as Conan sitting pensively on his throne, or fighting a giant snake, or with a scantily-clad girl draped around his leg.  If you pick a cover illustration for one of the later pastiches, Conan the Barbarian or The Savage Sword of Conan, there's a decent chance you'll find a picture that's pretty much Conan making off with a woman over his shoulder.  For them to basically say that they're doing something that is supposedly "not done very often," and to then describe something that everyone has done before is a contradiction on a Genji:Days of the Blade level.

Genji 2 is an action game, which is based on ancient Japanese history. Being based on history, the stages of the game will also be based on battles which actually took place in ancient Japan. So here's this giant enemy crab...
 - Genji: Days of the Blades' developer has a... strange definition of historical verisimilitude

Combined with Conan's rather generic "barbarian chic" - one shoulder pad and one bracer, as is the height of style among the Barbarati - and the very huge axe, and this seems less a new interpretation than just a retread of every Conan cliche in existence. All it needs are earings, a barbaric necklace and the fur nappy.

Ah, but we can't forget the backstory, can we?

The two guards heard the commotion and tried to react, but the cause of it was on them before sword had fully cleared scabbard. One, given his hungry stomach its fill of blade; the other, shoulders freed of a perplexed head. As the bodies fell to the temple floor, the warrior, black-maned and panther-like in gait, bounded past them unfaltering.

Conan, Cimmerian born and battlefield raised, locked his steel gaze ahead on the girl. Chaos erupting behind him, and with no chance to stop, he scooped her up in his left arm, while tensing his axe-bearing right for any attack that may come.

"Stop your struggling!" belted the Cimmerian. "Better in my arms than in theirs!"

Knowing he was right, the girl conceded to his grip, and relaxed onto his bronzed shoulder. Feeling her do so, Conan gathered speed and leapt into the night with his rescued prize.

Now why does that strike me as more De Campian in prose than Howardian?  "a hungry stomach's fill of blade," "shoulders free of a perplexed head," and whatnot: those sorts of similes are too comical for Howard. De Camp, being quite a witty writer when he wants to be, tended to write in this style in his pastiches, with a sense of being written by a befuddled old professor writing down Conan's exploits. It's almost Pratchett-esque.

But I could live with all that. I could live with the Orcy armour, contrived backstory and everything else.  But Sideshow Collectibles commits a blunder so monumental that I truly cannot believe this got past the paint stage. It's insane.  It's perplexing.  It's so easily corrected.

Can you guess what it is yet?

How about now?

That's right: Sideshow Collectibles' Conan has brown eyes.



I just wonder why people could be interested in buying this now...

Oh, right.

Well, in any case, I have to applaud the technical engineering of the statue.  It's incredibly well made and sculpted: the flesh looks tactile and organic, the steel strong and heavy, the leather tough and textured. The balance is exceptionally well done. So on that score, I think the statue is excellent, a real feat. I just wish it was for something that hasn't been done dozens, if not scores, of times elsewhere.

Still, maybe next time.  Sideshow has a number of Conan dioramas and statues in the works.  Perhaps the next one will be more original...

Damnit, never mind.  Alright, anyone want to place bets on the third Sideshow diorama?  Conan wrestling a giant snake?  Conan posing with a weapon and a scantily-clad chick draped around his leg?  King Conan posing pensively on his throne? Conan tussling with some man-beast with wings/tentacles/horns/animal characteristics?  Conan standing on a pile of skulls/bodies/soldiers?

I dunno, I guess I'm just disappointed. This was a fantastic opportunity to depict a scene from the Conan stories without wearing Frazetta, Dark Horse, Marvel or Milius glasses.  Instead of Conan making off with some nameless bint, they could've done desert-ravaged Conan carrying Natala across the Southern Desert,  Conan hauling Yasmina away in his Afghuli Hetman gear, Conan dropping the nameless punk into the cesspool, Conan hauling Albiona to safety, Conan bearing Octavia through the forest.  Instead of Conan fighting a generic ape, it could be a new interpretation of Conan's battle with Thak, the Grey Ape in "Iron Shadows in the Moon," the Lurker of the Pits, the Chakan Bull-Ape, or the Winged One.  There are so many Conan moments from the stories: why not just go straight to them for inspiration?

We could have Conan fighting Thak from "Rogues in the House" (instead of that generic nonsense above.)


  1. What? Actually read Howard? Surely you jest? How can I possibly be expected to try to wade through the ravings of a sexist, racist, homophobic whackoid when all the stuff that's worth preserving about Howard's work has already been distilled and is readily available in the public consciousness?

    (Disengage heavy sarcasm mode. Sarcasm mode disengaged).

    Nice post, Al, though you gotta admit the babe is hot.

  2. I have a John Buscema based one. Not the one shown here, but an earlier one. This is fitting because I was introduced to Conan by Marvel's Conan the Barbarian issue #36. However, were someone to do an original Conan statue that captured the spirit of REH's character, I'd certainly buy one.