By Richard Gould


“Conan the Barbarian” is getting a fresh start and a Hickory artist has created the cover for the very first issue scheduled to hit the stands in late July.

While Conan is a familiar name to most, a quick refresh may be in order: Conan the Barbarian is a young man from Cimmeria, which lies across the southern mountains from Asgard. He’s a warrior, a thief, a gladiator and eventually, a king.

Eric Ray

Conan’s legend began in 1932 when author Robert E. Howard created the character and wrote a series of short stories about the Barbarian for Weird Tales magazine. Conan came to pages of comic books in the 1970s. Arnold Schwarzenegger became Conan in 1982; Jason Momoa took the reins in 2011.

And now Conan’s getting a fresh start. The publisher Titan Comics is keeping the legend alive. This month your local comic shop will be stocking the all-new “Conan the Barbarian No. 1.”

Conan fans looking for something really special will find it at Hickory’s Time Tunnel Comics. The shop’s owner, Jacob Edwards reached out to his friend – and favorite Hickory tattoo artist, Eric Ray – and asked him to paint an exclusive variant cover. Ray jumped at the opportunity to draw his first-ever comic book cover and created a Time Tunnel Comics-exclusive that can only be purchased right here in Hickory.

“This is my first time – my first published work,” Ray said. “I’m super-excited about it.”

The commission makes sense. Edwards is a lifelong Conan fan, and Ray has been covering Edwards’ arms with permanent living art in the form of eye-popping full-color comic book panels for a decade.

“I knew that if anyone was going to get what I like about this character and my vision for the comic, it was going to be Eric,” Edwards said. “I love the way it came out – it’s my favorite cover that we’ve done for the store. It’s everything that I wanted in a Conan cover.”

While Ray prefers traditional canvases and paints for his dynamic – and often Star Wars-inspired – oil paintings, when it’s time to create comics, he usually goes high-tech and does it digitally on his Windows Surface Pro tablet. Creating the Conan cover was a painstaking process. Going from preliminary sketch to approved art involved four weeks of work, emails and edits before Titan Comics approved the final version, which premiered at the Time Tunnel Comic Con on July 29 at the Highland Recreation Center.

The early numbers are in, and with more than 80,000 issues sold already before the release date, Conan the Barbarian No. 1 is the best-selling issue in Titan Comics’ history.

“It’s definitely a major break-out book – it’s on pace to sell 100,000 issues,” Edwards said. “Those are Spectacular Spider-Man and Batman numbers – and there’s a gallery in the back of every issue that shows all of the variant covers and Eric’s cover is going to be in all 100,000 issues.”

Ray and Edwards had a great time at the show, he’s proud of his first comic cover and now things are getting back to normal for Ray as he continues his careers.

During the day he’s a school bus driver, in the evenings he’s a tattoo artist at Roumors Tattoo, and in his free time he indulges in his love for oil painting. But he’s not done with comics quite yet.

“I’m working on a new cover for a friend for her manga book,” he said. “And I’ve written a 13-issue comic script of my own.”