With Conan the Barbarian #50, the wildly successful Conan comic series comes to an end. Tim Truman, artist and writer extraordinaire, is following the title to a different phase of the Conan journey. His past work speaks for itself, and needs no introduction. But, being this is a Conan interview…
Know then, purveyors and perusers of fine literature, that Tim Truman has crossed the barren wastelands of West Virginia and wielded pencil and brush in Pennsylvania. Many bards have composed the tales his art has breathed life to, and many artisans have breathed life into his Hyborian sagas. According to the holy words of Crom, what lies beneath determines a man’s fate. Let us gaze into the waters and discover the path of the artist named Tim Truman.
Tim Lasiuta: Let’s start with the title of the book changing from Conan to Conan the Cimmerian. Why is Dark Horse changing the name and what importance does it have on the title?
Timothy Truman: It seemed a good point to focus on a few things, the most important being the fact that, chronologically, we are moving into stories that get into the “post thief” era that Robert E. Howard mapped out for Conan— into the phase of the Cimmerian’s career that moved him from a young, wandering thief and into his days as a mercenary and pirate. It’s a harder-edged period of his life, featuring many of Howard’s best, most influential tales. In the first arc of Conan the Cimmerian (the #0 preview special and issues 1-7), we’ll be setting up a lot of things to come. I think that readers who’ve been following the book will find the first arc to be pretty interesting. Without deviating from the spirit of Howard’s original concept, we get into Conan’s head in ways that haven’t been seen before. I think Conan is a surprisingly, deceptively complex character and the first seven issues gave us an opportunity to explore that aspect of him.
The new title also proves a way to shine a spotlight on our new artist, Tomas Giorello. Tomas is really putting his own stamp on the title. He literally gets better issue after issue. I just received my advance copies of issue #47 and was blown away. Then my editors sent me JPEGs for Conan #50 and they were a whole other level beyond that. He’s mystifying, this Giorello.
Finally, we felt that it was time to sink our teeth into some longer continuity sequences. Cary Nord was and is a phenomenal artist, but he had to take breaks every three issues or so. Thus, I had to come up with a lot of incidental tales. The fillers provided good chance to experiment a little and get into things that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise, but in the end it got to be an increasingly difficult situation for myself and the rest of the team. We got a sense that many of our regular readers didn’t much care for it, either. So the new title gave us a chance to come out of the huddle and hit the field with a renewed power. There will be occasional fill-ins of course– Tomas will certainly have to take breaks from time to time. However, ideally, we’ll get to plan them as great big special events for us and for the readers.
TL: Dark Horse has been re-releasing a lot of the old Conan material, such as the Savage Sword of Conan. How important do you see these old works to the life of the new series?
TT: As much as I loved the old Marvel series, they actually don’t have much bearing on what we do with the Dark Horse incarnation. The Marvel books were patterned after the ’70’s Lancer Books/L. Sprague de Camp version of Conan, which was what they held the license for. However, the de Camp version was quite-modified from REH’s original. Also, Thomas was forced to rewrite a slew of Howard’s non-Conan stories and turn them into Conan adventures. Our focus is specifically on Robert E. Howard’s original stories and character, which he crafted for the 1930’s Weird Tales pulps. In between our adaptations, we do “prelude” arcs to fill in gaps in Howard’s original continuity, but even for those I rely heavily on hints that REH drops in his fragments, outlines, letters and finished Conan stories.
No disrespect to the Marvel versions, I assure you. They had quite an impact on me when I was younger. Roy Thomas did a marvelous job interpreting and adapting the stories he had to work with, and the artwork that Barry Smith, John Buscema, Mike Ploog, Gil Kane and others did are, by and large, high water marks for the medium. So it’s great to have the stuff in circulation again. Hats off to Dark Horse team for that.
TL: What kind of switch was it for you to switch from artist to writer on Conan?
TT: A big one. Being the artist for the miniseries and two fill-ins that I did was more daunting, I think. I was really tough on myself. It still doesn’t match the vision of Conan I had in my head when I was growing up. Maybe I’ll take another whack at it someday, when Tomas needs a break.
Writing was more natural to fall into, because Howard was such a monumental influence on me. The first stories I did were saddled with a lot of essential character and subplot continuity that had to be resolved, but that proved to be a fun challenge. A lot of it came in really handy, as the double-sized Conan #50 issue will prove, I think. Things happen in “Hand of Nergal” (the last arc of the current title) that will really shake folks up, I think. Issues #49 and 50 are quite powerful. Tomas Giorello and I are really developing a shared vision that I’m quite excited about.
TL: The list of artists you have worked with on Conan is amazing. Who hasn’t worked on the title that you would love to work with?
TT: Paul Gulacy. Scot Eaton. Rag Morales. Andy and Adam Kubert. I think that Joe Kubert would do an amazing and dark version of Conan. Before the Marvel version came around, I had this childhood impression on that Joe was the perfect artist for Conan — that he’d be the one who could inject that Frazetta-like sweat, grime and darkness into things. In fact, I just realized that when I think about my own artwork, the way I approach graphic storytelling, mood, and characterization is tainted with those early impressions I had when I was eleven years old or so– Kubert doing Frazetta doing Robert E. Howard’s Conan.
TL: Other than comic books, what influenced you your work on Conan? Were there any literature or music influences?
TT: Robert E. Howard and Frank Frazetta influenced my version of Conan, mainly. Music has influenced a lot of my other work– just about all of it, really– but hasn’t really influenced the way I approach Conan, I don’t think. Funny, that’s another thing I just realized.
There is a group that I tend to think of, though, when I think of folks who would make the perfect soundtrack music for a Conan
movie: the group Hedningarna, from Europe. They’re a band of former thrash musicians who took a complete left turn in their careers and got into the heavy study Finnish, Swedish and Russian folk melodies. They play the melodies on ancient acoustic string and percussion instruments- many of which the built themselves. They play these acoustic instruments over a background of these massive, intricately layered, driving percussion loops. It’s amazing music. When Tomas started, I sent him a CD of some of Hedningarna’s best instrumental stuff and he really dug it.
TL: Tim, your work on Conan has firmly established your credentials as a fully rounded creator in addition to your work as writer, artist, and musician. Your journey from art school to Hyborian Scribe has been monumental. Tell us about it.
TT: That’s nice of you to say. It’s been quite a trip, yeah. I don’t know if it’s been monumental, in regards to the medium, but it’s been monumental personally, for sure. I’m pretty grateful. When I was a kid from rural West Virginia, I would never have dreamed that I’d get the opportunities to do the various types of work that I’ve done and the people and material I’ve had a chance to work with.
The good thinking is, it ain’t over yet, by any means. If I’ve come full circle, then maybe that means that I’m just getting started.
TL: Your body of comic book work to this point has been diverse: Scout, Hawkman, Jonah Hex, the Kents, the Lone Ranger, Grimjack and now Conan. How has your work pre-Conan prepared you for chronicling the Trumanian adventures?
TT: Like I said, Howard and Conan were huge influences on my work– the main influence, when it comes right down to it. The other work I’ve done helped me get my chops down. The work that I do on Conan helps me refine my chops for things I’m going to do in the future.
TL: Not only are you doing Conan, but also the www.Comicmix.com online site is featuring a new Grimjack graphic novel, Grimjack: the Manx Cat, as well as reprints of the horror series you did for DC’s Helix line, Black Lamb. What is the response to these titles and the online presentation?
TT: It’s been great. Once of the coolest things is that new people have been turned on to my work. People that have never visited a comics store are able to access and enjoy the material online. That said, I don’t think the online medium is really living up to its obvious potential. There are things that I’d like to play with compositionally, as well as things that I’m sure I could do using flash animation, MP3 music, and the like. If I do anymore online comics projects, I’m going to insist that I be allowed to take better advantage of the obvious merits of the digital format. They shouldn’t be just pages on a screen that one has to scroll through, click “zoom” buttons for, etc. Online comics can be far more fun and participatory, rather than just being versions of traditional printed stuff with backlighting. So we’ll see.
TL: I have been fascinated by your website (http://www.trumanstudio.citymax.com/page/page/1764173.htm). To peak inside your web page seems to be a peak inside Tim’s life. Music. Art. Auctions. If you weren’t an artist, I’m thinking that you might be a classy rock ‘n roll guitarist playing Rock N Roll Hoochie Koo. How close would that image be?
TT: Oh, well, dead on, of course. However, I’m quite a bit taller than Rick Derringer. Probably more like Levon Helm, with Leslie West and Duane Allman in my band.
TL: Other than comic books, teaching, music, what haven’t you done that you’d like to try your hand at?
TT: Well, as a matter of fact, I’m doing one of those very things. Joe R. Lansdale gave me an opportunity to do a short story for a hardcover prose anthology for Subterranean Books, Retro Pulp Tales 2, which will be, as the title indicates, various well-known authors paying tribute to the classic pulp mags and genres of the 1930’s-50’s. I started developing a story based around an idea that I’ve had for a long time– a detective story set in West Virginia in 1921, during the mine wars. I wrote a sample chapter for Joe to check out and he immediately got back to me to say that really liked the concept and what I’d written– so much so that he encouraged me to forget about it as a short story and expand the idea into a full length novel.
Right now I’m finishing up the last 25 or 30 pages of art for Grimjack: Manx Cat and I hope to get deeply into it– go down to the State Archives in Charleston, WV and do some research and then get a novel written. Joe and other folks who’ve read the first chapter have really gotten behind the work, and that’s been really stimulating and gratifying. I have to do it. In the meantime, of course there’s Conan and my other projects, but this really seems like a chance to get into some prose fiction writing, which is something I’ve always wanted to do– in fact, ever since reading Robert E. Howard’s work when I was a kid. Funny how things work out, ain’t it? I still haven’t forgotten my Odin: the Wanderer idea, which I’ve wanted to get back into as well. That one mixes prose and artwork.
Generally speaking, there are so many projects, and so little time. However, I’m making a concerted effort to streamline my work load a bit so that I can really get into a few things that I’ve wanted to make time for.