Timothy Truman interview

 height=(WoW MAY 08)

Timothy Truman is the popular writer and artist of such books as Grimjack, Jonah Hex, and Wilderness. Recently, he has been writing Conan for Dark Horse. Conan is relaunching as Conan the Cimmerian and Westfield's Roger Ash recently got in touch with Truman to find out about the new direction for the book.

Westfield: Why was the decision made to relaunch the Conan book as Conan the Cimmerian?

Timothy Truman: There's been a lot happening with the title, and frankly it seemed to be time to refocus attention on the book. Our new artist, Tomas Giorello, has been giving the book a more elaborate, powerful look. Tomas' visualizations of Conan and his era are dynamic and richly detailed - a combination of modern comics drive and Frazetta-style classic fantasy illustration.

Just as importantly, we wanted to draw attention to the fact that Conan is entering a new phase of his career. REH divided Conan's life into very distinct, chronological periods. The main arcs in the Conan title told the story of the first phase - the earliest wanderings of young Conan the thief, fresh from the Cimmerian hills. Conan the Cimmerian moves into Conan's second phase, when he became a mercenary and, later, a pirate. So the new title is a great way of setting up a signpost marking this second era in the barbarian's life, on his road to eventual kingship.

 height=Westfield: Will you be adapting Howard stories or will the focus be on new stories?

Truman: The first arc, Cimmeria (Conan the Cimmerian #0-7) is mainly an original tale inspired by Robert E. Howard's poem of the same title, and information that REH gave us in letters.

After that, we move apace through the chronology that we've been relying on. The order of the next three Howard adaptations would be Shadows in the Moonlight, followed by Black Colossus and Queen of the Black Coast. In between, there will be short prequel episodes, to set up the tales, expand on various hints that Howard might imply, and show Conan transitioning to the locations of the tales.

Westfield: What can you tell us about your plans for Conan? Any story hints?

Truman: In 50 issues of Conan, readers have seen the Cimmerian take some pretty hard knocks, physically and emotionally. He's been betrayed by some people he cared about, and that betrayal led to the death of his partner, Nestor the Gunderman. Nestor was one of the few true friends Conan has ever made, and REH indicates in Rogues in the House that Nestor's death made an impact on Conan - so much so that he hunted down and murdered the priest whose schemes had led to Nestor's execution.

Suffice it to say that Conan's first brush with the civilized world - culminating in the event in issues #47-50 - have left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Thus, Conan the Cimmerian will mainly cover what I suppose one could call the transitional period of Conan's long career - moving out of his early years as a thief and vagabond and into his early days as a mercenary in the Hyborean lands of Koth and Corinthia. But first, he makes a return to his homeland, the gray, mountainous country of Cimmeria. This is in accordance with information that Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard, left us in a letter he wrote to some fans in the 1930's, just before his death.

I asked myself: what made him return home? Howard didn't tell us, but by merely mentioning it as part of Conan's career chronology, he obviously considered it to be a matter of at least passing significance. Considering that Conan makes the journey right before he turned to a new page in his overall career, I thought it provided an excellent way to do a tale that would get into the Cimmerian's head.

Doing so also presented a chance to explore another character who is important to Conan's saga: his grandfather, Connacht. Howard tells us that it was Connacht's tales that inspired Conan to venture outside of Cimmeria. Connacht had also left the hills, as a youth, to go adventuring in the lands outside Cimmeria. However, when Connacht returned to Cimmeria he never left again. This presented a question that I couldn't resist: why did Conan and Connacht make different decisions?

The Connacht tales will be told in "flashback" sequences drawn by the great Richard Corben. The first arc is seven issues long. Issues #1 and #2 feature lengthy Corben sequences, to get things going and set the mood. The Corben sequences in issues #3-7 are shorter - 6-8 pages each. The Connacht sequences work in tandem with the main storyline. As Conan wanders through Cimmeria, he thinks back on his grandfather's stories and draws relevance from them.

 height=Tomas Giorello, of course, draws the main Conan sequences. The artwork in these issues is pretty amazing. In fact, since Tomas actually drew his first two issues even before he began drawing Conan #47-50, he's going back and redrawing some of the pages, because his feel for the characters and the era has developed so much.

Westfield: As you've mentioned, you're working with artists Tomas Giorello and Richard Corben on the first issue. What can you tell us about their contribution to the book?

Truman: Corben is a consummate storyteller. There are few comics artists out there who bring such a cinematic feeling to their work. It's like watching an epic film. Plus his attention to detail and characterization is pretty awe-inspiring. He was a big influence on my own work as an artist, via his underground work, so working with him has been a really neat experience for me. Richard and I worked "Marvel" style - that is, I plotted the sequences, he drew from my plots, and I'm writing dialog to go with his drawings.

As for Tomas, while he'd done some comics work before, he's done far more work as an illustrator. So, at least for now, I give him detailed full scripts - descriptions of "camera" angles, special effects and such that I might leave to the imagination of someone who'd been doing comics for years. However, the boy is catching on quick! He makes these huge leaps with every scene he draws. His art for #49 and 50 were miles ahead of the work he did for #47. Right now, I'm waiting anxiously to see what he's cooking up for the Conan the Cimmerian #0 issue. I just talked to him yesterday. He's really excited about the plot.

 height=Westfield: As an artist yourself, do you enjoy seeing how other artists interpret your scripts?

Truman: Oh, yeah, you bet. I always learn something. With these two guys, Corben is so good at storytelling, and Tomas is such a great figure artist.

Westfield: Do you ever get the itch to draw one of your Conan scripts yourself?

Truman: I'd love to at some point. Right now, I have a lot on my plate, though.

Westfield: Other projects in the works, then?

Truman: Oh, yeah. Besides writing the monthly Conan the Cimmerian book, I'm finishing up artwork for the Grimjack: The Manx Cat graphic novel that's now appearing online at www.Comicmix.com. It's a massive story, and I'm just finishing up the last 15 or 20 pages this month. The book has been appearing for free online, and will be collected into graphic novel format for comics retailers and booksellers later this year. Working with (writer) John Ostrander and (editor) Mike Gold is ways big fun.

My son Ben and I are collaborating on a special Conan story which is part of a project that Dark Horse is developing with MySpace.com. I'm real excited about working with Ben. He's a really good writer. We're writing the story together, and it will be drawn by a really talented newcomer. Introducing newcomers to the profession is an integral to the MySpace.com project.

Other than that, I'm booked for a lot of non-comics work - illustrations for a new hardcover short story anthology book that Joe R. Lansdale is editing for Subterranean Press Retro Pulp Tales 2, a CD cover for country rock singer Jim Lauderdale's next collaboration with lyricist Robert Hunter, called Patchwork River, and artwork for a couple of big new Grateful Dead projects that are coming up later in the year.

That said, after I finish Grimjack, I'm taking a few months off to do research and writing for a novel that I'm really excited about - a detective story set during the bloody union wars that occurred in the West Virginia mining country in 1920's. I started the project as a short story for Joe's Retro Pulp Tales 2 anthology, but when he read it Joe flattered me by encouraging me to develop it as a novel. So I'm pretty excited about that. It's a subject that I've always been fascinated with. My dad, grandfathers, and uncles were all coal miners. I had family members who were union organizers during that period. My mother's father was killed in a mining tragedy, and her stepfather lost his arm in a roof cave-in. So I feel a big connection with the subject and the period.

In my spare time, I've been doing a lot of music - playing live acoustic music with a friend of mine, Jim Folker, recording a CD with Jim in my recording studio, and laying down tracks for my own music project. I'm pretty serious about doing music. It's a great way to get away from the board and the PC.

It's going to be a busy year, but that's the way I like it.

To link to this column, use this link (right click and copy)