Fredrik Malmberg is publisher, producer and CEO of Cabinet Entertainment, which holds the rights to Robert E. Howard's work. That includes warriors of old such as Kull, Solomon Kane, Dark Ages and, of course, Conan the Cimmerian. Fredrik has protected the legacy of this characters for more than two decades. Today, he has find some time in his busy schedule to answer a few questions...
Probably you have answered this question one million times already but: how did you discover Robert E. Howard? What's your favorite story of his?
In the late 1970’s I encountered the Conan Ace editions in English and read a few. I was a teenager and I can’t say I realized that most stories of those editions were non-Howard. At the time I loved Lord of the Rings, and was a big fan of Michael Moorcock. When Conan the Barbarian came out in 1982 it was a big hit, and that coincided with my launch of games related businesses in Sweden. So a few years later, when I started publishing fantasy novels in the Swedish language, Conan collections were the two first titles and the absolute best sellers. It’s hard to pick a favorite story. It kind of changes too. Perhaps Tower of the Elephant, or Red Nails. Or Beyond the Black River.
What’s your favorite (not Conan-related) sword & sorcery movie? I’m curious!
I’m dating myself but Excalibur was awesome. The Revenant isn’t fantasy but it feels like it could be set in Cimmeria. Matt Reeves Planet of the Apes trilogy was very good I thought. Game of Thrones and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings are still benchmarks of course.
Regarding the world of gaming: Mutant Year Zero is licensed to Free League and Kult is licensed to Helmgast. Have you thought of publishing any role playing games directly (instead of through licensing)?
I gave up on publishing RPG’s in 1999 because it is just too demanding. With so many great publishers out there, I think it’s good to let them have an influence on the creative direction. It’s a win win. They play in legacy sandboxes and we benefit from working with solid specialized pros.
By the way, what are your first memories regarding this hobby?
I started in the hobby through tabletop wargames. I was a history nerd. My first game was SPI’s Napoleon at Waterloo, and then that industry quickly changed with fantasy boardgames and of course D&D which I played for the first time in 1977.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of Conan the Cimmerian. As Thoth-Amon once said: “time flies when you’re having fun”. You are going to release a new novel (Blood of the Serpent) and a videogame (Conan chop-chop). Can we expect more surprises this 2022?
Yes there will be surprise announcements for sure! Gaming in all forms remains our focus but comics and collectibles remain strong and important categories for us. My personal goal is that we can get a greenlight for our Netflix show this year.
There is something else you would like to say about “Blood of the Serpent” and the new batch of Conan books?
This will be the first pastiche novel in twenty years! How we will go from there depends on the reception on this first title of course. Our Editor is Steve Saffel who brought the REH Library to Del Rey, and we have the entire weight of Titan Books as a solid partner. The Publishing industry has changed so much in the past twenty years but which industry hasn’t?
Last September Funcom acquired Cabinet Entertainment. How can this affect your current (and future) projects?
It allows us to have a longer perspective on things and gives us an entirely different financial strength. We have been partners for almost 20 years, but this step removed any kind of “us and them” and so by extension both parties gain deep knowledge. It’s hard for an IP to be relevant today without a solid games business.
I remember in the early 2000s when the Conan brand was being relaunched, how magnificent the Dark Horse comic books were, especially the Kurt Busiek run. But, as far as I know, those books never had a runaway sales success. What do you think happened?
That was a great run. A monthly schedule is hard on artists, and Cary Nord had to drop out around issue 20. It kind of broke the magic. And the story arcs were somewhat creatively boxed in by having to follow the REH chronology. It would have taken twenty five years to tell it all, and people dont have *that* attention span. As for sales I think they were pretty solid for non-DC/Marvel.
Conan Exiles still goes strong after 4 years. Why do you think it has been so successful, considering how competitive the MMO landscape is?
Great question. I recall we set out to get into the Top 10 Survival Games which was a new genre in 2015. The dong slider sure gave the game an unprecedented PR boost!
Millions and millions of games later its safe to say we are all surprised. A big reason is Funcom’s deep experience in story telling and MMO development. It’s a much deeper experience than a generic setting with some fancy tech. The continued dev support, through bumps and all, really has been key. There are still great things in the making of which I can’t speak but I hope will be revealed this year.
When the Netflix deal was announced the fans were pretty excited. I know this kind of stuff is kept a secret for a reason, but, can you give us a little update?
We are in development. The ambition is quite high, its not only series but films and animation and we want to make sure it is all well orchestrated and with continuity. Netflix is a huge organization but with us in the middle we try to navigate between the departments and make sure that the creative vision stays on top. I hope we can get greenlight late this year which could mean start of production next year some time.
We know that (unfortunately) “Legend of Conan” won’t happen. Lo! The day Universal fled away lots of women cried tears of despair while the men crunched their teeth. Years go by and none of us are getting any younger… but, I have to ask: do you think there’s ANY CHANCE of Arnold reprising the role? Maybe not in the Netflix “flagship show” but in a side project?
Nobody ever knew how old Conan got to be, right? And what he did after he left the throne. If there is a will, there is a way, and I think everybody would love to see Arnold involved in some way.
You know if there’s a possibility of any of these projects to be partially shot on Zingara (Spain)?
I’m all for it. These shows are typically shot all around the world, and there are inevitable number crunchings deciding where they end up shooting. But Spain is a great location.
We all know "Conan the Destroyer" is far from perfect (especially if we compare it to the Millius classic). However, there are persistent rumours of an "extended edition" that solves a lot of problems in the film. You know if that's true or if we can expect a Blu-Ray release in the near future?
I have not heard of that actually.
We have talked a lot about Conan but there is another Howard character I found as interesting (if not more) as the Cimmerian: Solomon Kane. Have you any plans for him in the near future?
It is a favorite character of mine too, along with El Borak. We need to get Conan made, and well made, and in my mind that sopens up for a lot of these other characters both in games and film and tv.
I know you don’t hold the rights to the comic book version of Red Sonja, but a movie has been announced with MJ Bassets at the helm (director of 2009’s “Solomon Kane”). What are your thoughts on the film? Is there any chance of seeing Howard’s Sonya in any form of media?
REH’s Sonya appears only in one short story, set in Vienna during the Ottoman siege. That’s cool for you and me, serious history buffs, but not many others unfortunately. As for Red Sonja, we are not involved with that in any capacity, so I prefer not to comment.
And finally: you've been king of all things barbarian for more than twenty years. Could you tell us which has been your LOWEST moment in the business and which has been the BEST?
Too many great moments to pick one! Being with Momoa on set, smoking stogies with Arnold, watching Conan Exiles downloads upon launch, working with Marvels amazing editorial team for the launch, meeting with Frank Frazetta, the list goes on and on. The lowest point was when corporate politics became too much for me in 2014 and I quit the company that I started. But you know what they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.