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Tim Truman: The Interview
by Michael Hutchison

FANZING : First of all, thanks for granting us an interview! For those in our audience who may only know you from your most recent DC/Vertigo Jonah Hex mini-series, why don't you recap some of your more prominent projects, DC and otherwise?

TIM TRUMAN : Thanks for inviting me.

Well, I was pretty lucky getting started, in that my first regular feature (no pun intended) really put me on the map. The character was Grimjack for First comics (written by John Ostrander ). Grimjack started out as a monthly backup in Mike Grell's Starslayer, and proved to be an overnight success. The term "grim and gritty" was initially coined in the Grimjack lettercolumn "Spill Yer Guts." It was one of a handful of books that helped usher in a whole age of hyper-violent, down and dirty comics, and set the stage for books like Marvel's Punisher.
After that I did Scout and Scout: War Shaman with Eclipse comics. I'm very proud of that series, and along with Grimjack it's really what secured a sizable fan readership for me, for which I'm very thankful. I started my own company, 4Winds Publishing, and published several works that had only been seen in South America and Europe, as well as Sam Glanzman's science fantasy, Attu. With 4 Winds I produced an intensively researched biography of Simon Girty, a Revolutionary War renegade who defected to the British and fought alongside the Indians. The two-book series book was called Wilderness and it was incredibly successful-- especially outside the comic book market! I reprinted it three times-- twice with 4Winds and once via Eclipse. Wilderness is a real cult item with historians and historical re-enactors. Original copies of the two signed and numbered hard cover editions now sell through antiquarian book sites for $500. Luckily, it's about to be reprinted again, by my friend Roger Broughton in Canada.

Roger is also reprinting a book that I did with Tim Bradstreet for serialization in Europe, Dragon Chiang, a science fiction tale about an ass-kicking Chinese Communist truck driver. I still think it's some of my best writing and drawing, and Bradstreet did an amazing job inking my penciled art. Dragon Chaing was translated and published in the US by Eclipse. However, as the book was announced when Eclipse was in dire straits, it had a really small print run the first time out. I'm really glad that it's going to see light of day again in a month or two. People are always asking Tim and me for it at cons. It's a rare commodity, in it's original form. Another of my favorites that I did during this time was the revamping of the old pulp character the Spider for Eclipse.

At about this same time I did the three issue Hawkworld miniseries for DC comics, which re-introduced Hawkman character to the DC universe. Hawkworld won the European Haxtur award for Best Comic-- something I'm quite proud of and which few people know about.

After Hawkworld I worked on a series of collaborations with horror and suspense novelist Joe R. Lansdale. The first of these was Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo. This book really helped make western comics viable again, and I'm proud to have been associated with the books. Joe's writing style really shook a lot of comic book writers up and introduced a whole new way of language and writing to the medium. Frankly, I think a lot of people have tried to ape Joe's style and have never really quite gotten the point yet. No one does Joe better than Joe. Joe and I also did Lone Ranger and Tonto, a book that earned the ire of Rush Limbaugh and the praise of Native American Rights groups, due to our portrayal of Tonto as-- well, as a regular guy!

I've done several things with the Grateful Dead -- limited edition tour t-shirts, tour banners, and the like. I was the only artist to appear in every issue of the Kitchen Sink Grateful Dead Comix series. Some of my best illustrating has been for the Dead and the post-Dead aggregations. Few folks in comics know that I do a full color, tabloid sized Comix Page for the Grateful Dead Almanac every three months! The Comix Pages are written by lyricist Robert Hunter -- one of my favorite people on Earth. More people probably see these strips than any other of my work. Over 100,000 people receive the Almanac. It's free--- just go to Dead.net and you can see the old ones, and sign up for a quarterly mailing (Don't worry-- the Dead organization doesn't sell your name to spammers!). My association with Hunter continued with the graphic novel Dog Moon, which he wrote and I drewfor Vertigo/DC. Dog Moon is a truly beautifully written piece of work.

I did an authorized biography of Carlos Santana, one of my favorite guitarists. As it turned out, he's a big fan of my Scout comic.

More recent projects have been Black Lamb for DC's Helix line, Turok for Acclaim or Valiant or whatever they are now, plus the Kents and Guns of the Dragon for DC's regular line.

Now, I'm writing Dark Horse's regular Star Wars comic. Lucasfilm recently astounded me by requesting that I become the permanent writer for the book. Very flattering and gratifying, I must say. I was floored. I got to do the Anakin one-shot, which was also an honor to be chosen to do. I'm more pleased with these various Star Wars stories than just about any I've ever written. I'm also writing, penciling and inking a book for them called Aurra Sing: Bounty Hunter, based on one of Lucasfilm's new characters.

I've just done a couple of new things with my big brother Joe R. Lansdale: An 8 pager called Brer Hoodoo -- a horror take on both the Uncle Remus stories and the Robert Johnson crossroads legend.; a cover for a limited edition collection of short stories and excerpts called Vale's Visit; and a story for the CBLDF Benefit book, Murder by Crowquill.

By the way, fans who haven't seen my new work this year are going to be in for what will hopefully be a pleasant surprise. My drawing style has been going through some heavy changes, becoming super detailed and more ornate. I'm really excited by it-- and more in love with drawing and the comics medium than ever before.

FANZING : Like most people on David Letterman and Saturday Night Live, you're here because you have something to plug. But before we get to "Creature Commandos", let's talk a bit about you. Since all of your e-mails to me are signed "The Truman Family", I'm assuming you have one. What's family life like for a comic book creator?

TIM : Busy! I try to balance my family life with my professional life and my very bad music habit. I have a wonderful family. We're also wonderfully crazy. Things get pretty exciting around here sometimes. I'm just glad that I got to stay at home and watch the kids growing up. I have a lot of memories that a lot of parents miss, the modern times being what they are.

FANZING : How did you get into the industry, and what was your first professional project?

TIM : I came into comics from the role playing games industry. My first professional comic book projects were Starslayer and Grimjack for First comics. They needed a guy who could help invent a new type of comic book tough guy. My portfolio was full of comic book tough guys-- seedy, unkempt mercenaries and warriors-- barbarian gunslingers who've hired Keith Richards as a tailor.

FANZING : When did you know you wanted to be an artist (assuming you were an artist before you were a writer)?

TIM : My mom says I've been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil. So I guess that's when it started. It sounds romantic, but it's true: some of us don't have a choice. By all rights I shouldn't be drawing at all. I hold my pencil in a funny way-- what's called a "tripod" position. My teachers always berated me for it and tried to get me to hold a pencil normally, but I never caved in. I knew that it wasn't right for me, and that this was how I needed to hold a pencil for absolute control. I've recently discovered that this almost imperceptible tripod pencil grip is a classic sign of certain small motor problems that have to do with ADD and a very mild degree of Tourette Syndrome. Not a noticable thing to anyone who isn't a TS specialist, and something that won't get worse. However, it's something that might very well have affected my willingness to pursue drawing-- or even guitar playing-- as a way of life. I've talked to guys who've said that it's very rare for a person who holds their pencil in this way to become a practicing artist. Go figure. Looks like I was going to draw no matter what.

FANZING : What do you do for fun when you get away from the art studio?

TIM : I play music with my band. I haunt guitar stores like comics fans haunt comics stores. I trade guitars and amps. I restore old guitars. I collect CD's. Just about all my leisure activities involve music.

FANZING : You've worked on Jonah Hex twice now, I believe. Why do you like Hex?

TIM : Three times actually. I like Hex because he sort of served as a template for me, for what I wanted to do in comics. I never really like superheroes that much-- just a few who are more Science Fiction oriented, like Fantastic Four, Iron Man, SubMariner, Metamorpho, Eclipso and others like that. Generally speaking, super heroes always looked like some sort of gay Nazi statuary to me (no slam on gays intended-- I know many gay people who think the same thing!) I always like adventure stuff, or science fiction stuff. Creepy and Eerie were my textbooks when I was growing up. I collected comics-- or at least I bought them. We lived in some pretty rural areas. However, I liked Creepy and Eerie magazines the most-- and later, National Lampoon. Anyway, Hex looked like he'd be more at home in Creepy than in a color comic. He was drastic for his time-- just like the Hex that Joe and I do is a wee bit drastic for ours… at least north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

FANZING : And maybe you can answer this: why does Jonah's scar continue across the open space of his mouth? I've always wondered about that.

TIM : You know what Hex would do to me if I'd tell you that? C'mon, man…

FANZING : What other DC characters would you like to work with in the future?

TIM : Metamorpho. Eclipso. Claw the Unconquered (who appears in the last half of Creature Commandos, by the way), Captain Fear, in a big way. I got to do Guns of the Dragon, so that took care of two of them right there-- Enemy Ace and Bat Lash. I got to do a Gunner and Sarge story for Michael Golden when he edited the Sgt. Rock Special. And Gunner's in Creature Commandos (albeit a rather drastically altered gunner-- victim of the military industrial complex, and all that). OH, and Blackhawk and Challengers of the Unknown. I was BORN to do the Challengers! And just like Kirby wanted them to be done, too! I'd also like to do an Elseworlds with Batman set in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. I think somebody tried to do a Superman Elseworlds that way, but I seem to recall that it totally missed the Commie and Nazi elements big time.
And I'd like to do an adult humor version of Fox and Crow. Just because if I said it to anyone, they'd say it couldn't be done. I love it when they say that!

FANZING : Were you really friends with Gardner Fox (creator of numerous Silver Age characters)? Could you tell us about him and how you came to know him?

TIM : I met him at a Gencon (role playing games convention) where he and I were both guests. I was walking by the cafeteria on my way back to the TSR artists' area and noticed this older gent and his wife sitting there, all alone. I said hello, and he gave me this big friendly smile. Somehow he looked out of place-- a rather dapper elderly gentleman, in the midst of these t-shirt-wearing role playing gamers. I asked someone who the old gent was. They said "Oh, some writer. Gar Fox! " I couldn't believe it. Here was the man who wrote the first fantasy novel I'd ever read: Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman. Here was a man whose work was quite possibly the reason I was at this con as a guest! I went over and introduced myself and told him as much: that he was the reason I fell in love with fantasy genre. He was a total gentleman--- lovely man, very warm and dignified. I gave him a print that I'd done of John Carter of Mars riding a thoat. A week later, I received a letter from him, thanking me. It was written on an old typewriter-- probably the same on he used to type the Kothar novel with-- at least I like to think so. Anyway, after that, we wrote each other quite frequently. I got to do one story with him, which appeared in my Killer Tales anthology for Eclipse.

FANZING : Your Hawkworld mini-series was quite a re-working of the old Hawkman legend. I was surprised to read that it was actually intended to be a back-story for the old Katar Hol Hawkman which wouldn't contradict any of the old Silver Age stories. Are you disappointed that, once it was mostly out of your hands, it led to this mess of retroactive continuity that wiped out all the old Gardner Fox stories? And can you see any way to fix this mess, short of an "it didn't happen" solution?

TIM : Yeah-- I'd been very reverent towards the source material, despite my take on things like the nature of heroes and on whose backs a Utopia would have to be built. My series would have established a new history that would still have worked hand in hand with the old continuity-- especially the Silver Age continuity. Guys like Tony Isabella and Don Thompson hated the series when it first came out. They were too used to reading comics, and I wasn't approaching the pacing of Hawkworld like a comic. Each book of the three books was a chapter in a science fiction novel. The character at the end of the series was not the same person we'd met at the beginning of the series-- event had changed him. We got to see the events and the changes in each chapter. I tried to write Scout this way, too. Few comics ever approach their characters in this manner, yet it's one of the most basic rules for novelists. Anyway, if they'd have just let us say that the events in the miniseries happened years before Katar came to Earth, everything would have been fine. Chronologically, it would have been 1) my series, set on Thanagar, explaining things like why Katar is such a weapons collector and student of the antiquities and how he came by his police training. Then would come 2) the DC stories that we've read before. All could remain more or less intact, despite my character revisions and 3) Katar and Shayera, modern day-- their continuities tied to both the old Silver Age stuff and to my miniseries. End of predicament.

Instead, someone insisted that Katar and Shayera come to Earth in the weeks immediately following my series. It didn't work. It trashed too much continuity. Big predicament. My bud John Ostrander did the best with what they handed him. I served as a rather useless story and character consultant.

The New Creature Commandoes

FANZING : Creature Commandoes. This is a project you've been pitching and working for quite a while. What's the latest on the publishing schedule? When will it come out? Is this a mini-series or an ongoing project? Also, is this a DC or a Vertigo title?

TIM : It's a regular DC title. I think it'll be out in the early fall. Check with DC editor Peter Tomasi for the exact date.

FANZING : You say that these are not the cheesy old World War II Commandoes, yet there are a lot of similar elements. The team consists of a werewolf, a Frankenstein monster, a vampire and a harpy. Does this contradict or wipe out the earlier team, or do they take their name because of the remarkable similarity to the wartime characters?

TIM : With Creature Commandos, I was NOT reverential to the source material, I have to say! Those stories certainly have their fans, God bless 'em all. However, to me they represent the lowest period in American comics-- silly stories, workmanlike art, horrible printing (plastic plates on thin newsprint!)… They were one of the titles over which I just threw up my hands and quit reading comics for awhile. So I felt very safe doing my own thing. I did so with a vengeance-- both literally and figuratively! Illustrator Scott Eaton and I have created a clean slate that touches on the old series, but isn't explicitly tied to it.

FANZING : From the artwork you sent to me I could detect your love for the Silver Age characters. We've got the "Patchwork Man" a name (if not the same character) from the pre-Moore Swamp Thing. And a redesigned Zazzala the Queen Bee (!) of all people, who was a semi-lame villainess in the old JLA. I don't think she's been seen since Elongated Man defeated her and joined the League back in JLA #105, and we're talking a quarter-century ago! How the heck did you choose to bring her back?

TIM : Actually, Patchwork Man was the original character's name (refer to DC Who's Who ). As for Zazzala and the other bad guys, they were all chosen from the old Gar Fox and John Broome JLA stories. I went through the DC hardcover collections and started pickng out the most interesting inter-dimensional villains. Those who made the final cut were put in the series.

FANZING : Anything else you'd like to tell us about Creature Commandoes?

TIM : Only that Scot Eaton is going to tear people's heads off with the art. It's amazing-- especially so after the 3rd issue. By that time, I knew who the artist would be and I was able to write the story with Scot's style in mind. Very important for me. He's been on the scene a long time, but he's never really had anyone sort of tailor a story for him and him only. He's finally getting the recognition he deserves from the various editors and execs. They're treating him like some new young "find," when in truth he's been drawing for them and other companies for years! Scot is the only artist who can draw this. You'll see why with issue 3 and those that follow (which are set on an inhospitable alien planet).

FANZING : You are an active contributor to the Comic Book Defense Fund. Care to tell us a little about them and how you became involved?

TIM : When one of the in-house legal execs was apparently busy giving DC some bad, bad advice about how to handle Joe and I during the Winter Bros. VS DC fiasco, [EDITOR'S NOTE: this refers to blues rockers Johnny and Edgar Winter, who sued when Tim's Book RIDERS OF THE WORM AND SUCH parodied them] the CBLDF stepped in to assist us. We'd already spent thousands of dollars over just two months with a separate lawyer. It was clear that we couldn't afford this much longer. Both Joe and I were investigating routes that would protect our families in case the money ran out, we lost our lawyer, and the salaried legal sharks that the Winters' had hired ate us for breakfast. They wouldn't have won-- the law was clearly on our side, protecting our rights as artists to comment on our society and things that influenced it. However, they would have chewed on us real good., I can guarantee that. I was selling my guitar collection and all the artwork that I'd amassed over the years-- tons of Toth, Heath, and Severin art, plus some of my own pieces that I considered personal milestones of some sort. For a while the CBLDF represented us without payment or expectation of payment. They really smoothed things out. In the end, DC and Time/Warner wholeheartedly backed us and supported our rights and their property. Warner's lawyers were amazing. The CBLDF helped us through a very tricky period, and helped all of us get into the same boat. I was very glad about this-- I really enjoyed working with DC. They've always treated me very professionally.

FANZING : If you were a tree that could be uprooted by Superman and swung at an enemy, what kind of tree would you be?

TIM : I'd want to be the tree that they made my Gibson Les Paul from.

FANZING : What are your views on the current state of the comic book industry?

TIM : I think that the Net holds the key to our prosperity. We can still cater to supporters of comics in a very direct way. There are still plenty of comics fans out there-- just like there are plenty of re-enactors and frontier history buffs who bought Wilderness and helped me sell out of three different printings. We really have to cater to the specialty market now. John Ostrander and I are investigating plans to do just that. More news as it develops!

FANZING : Do you do any work outside of comic books?

TIM : Yes, the aforementioned work for the Grateful Dead, mentioned above. I just did a T-shirt and a CD cover for them-- Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, the '64 acoustic version of the group. I've done medicine show bottles for comedian Rev. Billy Wirtz -- a real nice ands incredibly funny southern humorist and musician. He's the Joe R. Lansdale of comedy. Grammy-winning fusion guitarist Jon Finn wants me to work on a project with him. I was consultant for the Turok video game. The bastards have owed me some royalties for awhile, by the way, for a couple of characters which I created. I've also designed characters for Universal Studios animation dept. and served as a historical consultant for some of their projects as well as for the outdoor drama, Tecumseh! (a play which I once adapted into comics form). I'd really like to illustrate a children's book some day, too.

FANZING : If the comics industry collapsed tomorrow, what would you do?

TIM : I'd still be drawing. I'd still be writing. But I'd sure be playing and fixing a lot more guitars! I'd sell art and self-produced limited edition comics on the NET and live happily ever after.

FANZING : Finally, if you could BE a DC Comics superhero, who would it be?

TIM : Spike of Sugar and Spike. He has ADD, too! Yep, Spike, without a doubt.

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Michael Hutchison.

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