Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Western Comics Focus: Timothy Truman

This month we turn our spotlight on writer/artist Timothy Truman, whose name has popped up more than once on this blog the last few months (he has worked often with Joe R. Lansdale and John Ostrander, both of whom we have also recently interviewed.)

Truman burst onto the comics scene in the early 1980s, when he and Ostrander co-created GRIMJACK for First Comics -a very influential title, which ushered in the "grim and gritty" movement that would dominate comics for the next decade. He has since worked on various comics, from TARZAN and CONAN to STAR WARS, as well as revamping the DC superhero Hawkman in HAWKWORLD. He has also created artwork for album covers and posters, doing several pieces for the Grateful Dead.

He has also been prolific in creating western and western-related comics, approaching the genre from several different angles. With Lansdale he produced several Jonah Hex "weird western" miniseries in the '90s, as well as a Lone Ranger miniseries. With Ostrander he created THE KENTS, a long miniseries following the western adventures of Superman/Clark Kent's adopted father's ancestors.

His 1985 series SCOUT was a dystopian, futuristic sci fi comic whose hero was an Apache. His two-part graphic novel about Revolutionary Era renegade Simon Girty won much critical acclaim; he also did a graphic novel adaptation of Allen Eckert's outdoor play TECUMSEH!

More recently, with his son Benjamin Truman, he has introduced HAWKEN- an aging Wild West hired killer who is haunted by the ghosts of everyone he has killed. Literally.

Timothy Truman has agreed to answer some questions for us today.

1. Simon Girty: Renegade was a very powerful work, and an unusual subject choice. What can you tell us about it, and why you chose Girty?
TIMOTHY TRUMAN: Growing up in West Virginia, along the Kanawha River and Ohio River country, Simon Girty was a historical figure that we used to read about in our state history classes. he was always described as a deplorable traitor, cutthroat, and lawless renegade. However, in the 1990's I started reading a lot of historical fiction and happened upon a book called the Frontiersman by the late, great Allan W. Eckert. Girty figures into the story as a secondary characater-- a friend of the great Ohio Valley scout, Simon Kenton. Allan's painted Girty as far more sympathetic and likeable person than the version of him I'd grown up hearing about. I became fascinated with Girty and decided to research his story. The more research I did, the more I saw how unfairly he'd been treated by American history. So I became determined to tell a more truthful history about the man. As a result of the work I did, many other people began reexamining his reputation and his place in history.  His relatives in Canada and the U.S.A. even made me an honorary "cousin." So I'm very proud of the Wilderness graphic novels, to say the least. 

2. How did you come to adapt the outdoor play
Tecumseh! as a graphic novel?

TT: Through the relationship that I established with Allan W. Eckert, mainly. I got to know Allan through my Wilderness work. He was very kind in suggesting some reference materials I might want to check out. We became friends. Allan was the writer of the Tecumseh! outdoor drama in Chilicothe, Ohio. Anyway, we thought that doing a graphic story adaptation would be a really cool thing to do. The promoters of the play were all for it. We made a deal with Cat Yronwode and Dean Mullaney at Eclipse Comics, and the graphic novel happened. As a result of the graphic novel and the research on frontier and Eastern American attire that I had to do for it, I was asked to redesign a lot of the costuming for the drama a few years after the graphic novel was published.  All in all it was a really rewarding experience. I just wish I could go back and redraw all that stuff! I'm such a better artist these days! My style has changed a lot.

3. Native American Indians figure prominently in your work, as do frontiers -even in some of your science fiction. Do you have a particular attraction to those themes, or did it just work out that way?


TT: I'd always been interested in Native American history and culture, even as a kid. I suppose it sprang out of stories I'd heard growing up about my great grandmother, Belle Truman, who was a Cherokee full blood who was raised in Kentucky. I've since learned that the stories were true. Anyway, the older I got, the more interested I became in Native culture, especially the Southwestern and Ohio Valley people.

4. You've been credited with helping launch the "grim and gritty" trend in comics in the early 80s. Why do you think so many other writers and artists followed your lead in this regard?

TT: I think it was a genre whose time had come. Remember that I was there in the beginning of the 1980's "independent" comics scene. The Indy movement was itself largely inspired by the '60's Underground and '70's-'80's European comics movements-- a fact that is unfortunately overlooked in most histories and documentaries about American comics. When we started doing creator owned stories and characters with the independent publishers, we gravitated towards creating material that was akin to the stuff people were doing in "respectable"  mediums such as novels and film. Still, for the material to be successful, it had to retain the action and more colorful, fantastical elements of comics, at least early-on. So it was a marriage of mediums, of sorts. Guys like me who enjoyed action films, science fiction and the like in the films and fiction we liked started doing our "movies on paper".  We proved it was possible and viable to own or co-own our own characters and get a fair share of royalties for the books and any merchandising or film that resulted from them. A few years later other folks got interested and started doing the same thing. Major publishers like DC and Marvel had to start offering creators better contracts. And "mainstream" folks like Frank Miller and the Image guys started jumping ship and getting better deals for the work they were doing.  

5. Your series Scout blended westerns with post-apocalyptic sci fi, and Hawken and Jonah Hex blended western with horror. Why do you think the western genre can be stretched into such diverse shapes, and yet still feel "western"?

TT: It's a question of environment and atmosphere,  I guess. Westerns speak to all of us. It involves certain character types and arch-types that are exciting to explore, whether you're a creator or a reader. There's an old adage that westerns are the American mythology, and I think that's true to a great extent. Myths are a reflection of history and culture. Westerns tell us a lot about America and Americans and are fertile ground for seeding stories of all types. In many ways, just giving a story a Western flavor or ambiance does about a quarter of the work for a writer or artist. It kind of "places" what it is you want to do. Of course, the most interesting stories take the tropes and expectations of the Western genre and play with them-- turn them on their heads, open them up, re-examine them. So mixing Westerns with other genres is probably an offshoot of that impulse. That was certainly the case with Scout, Hex and Hawken. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I and the people I've worked with have been pretty lucky in that regard, I suppose.

6. We've recently interviewed John Ostrander and Joe R. Lansdale, both of whom you have worked closely with. Can you tell us about your professional relationships with them?

TT: They are like brothers to me. We're very, very close. John, Joe and my son Ben are my writers of choice if I'm not going to write a story myself. We operate on the same wavelength in many reagrds, yet we're also very different from each other. We each can bring new colors to the final mix. As far as John and Joe go, they're both very different from each other. We get into these gabfest story conferences to figure things out. Ideas fly like mad-- hot and heavy. Then we do our work and bring our differences into play. Since there's a lot of mutual admiration and respect there, we each trust what the other is going to do. The funniest thing about working with Joe and John is the fact that I handle their stories quite differently. For one thing, John and I work "Marvel" method-- plot first, then art, then John scripts what I've drawn. We've tried it a few times full script, but have found that the so-called Marvel method is the way we work best. It makes for a better mix. With Joe and me, it's the opposite. Full script all the way-- mainly because that's the way that Joe insists on working. Also, Joe is a really wild writer. Given the material I've done over the years, you might be surprised to know that I'm a tad more mild-mannered in the kinds of material I like and the types of things I like to portray. So I usually end up turning things down a notch for Joe, just to stay comfortable with my own sensibilities. With John, it's the opposite: John is more mild-mannered than me. So as a result I find myself turning up the wildness and violence factor about 20% in the stories we do. As far as Ben goes, we're pretty much on the same wavelength. The only difference is that I prefer to do characters who have some sort of nobility or redemptive qualities about them-- damaged angels, if you will. So we've learned to meet in the middle in that regard.  

7. Of all the western characters you've worked with, have you had a favorite?

TT: Kit Hawken, without a doubt. So far he's my favorite character I've ever drawn. He's the only character whom I've drawn six entire issues of and still wanted to go on and do more, more, more. I've loved them all, but Hawken is the best, and I'd love to continue his adventures someday. There's so much more to tell! Ben and I are putting together a new Scout project though, Scout: Marauder, and it seems like it will have just as much energy to it.

If you could choose one fictional or historical character you haven't done that you'd like to do, who would it be?

TT: Fictional? Hard to say. I'd really like to do a real crime drama one of these days-- some sort of hard-boiled thing. It might be via prose: A few years back I started writing a detective novel set in West Virginia in the 1920's-- constructing my own genre of "Appalachian Noir", as I call it...  and I'd like to get back to that. But it would be great to draw some crime stuff, too. I got a big taste of it when I was drawing plates for the box set by late Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher which just came out this month, Kickback City, where I got to do pulp crime style illustrations for a short story written by best-selling author Ian Rankin.  As far as historical charcaters go, I've always wanted to do the story of turn-of-the-century labor activist Mother Jones. She is a fascinating woman-- a real hell-raiser, way ahead of her time. I love her so much. That woulod probably be better done as a screenplay than a comic, though. Anyway, it's a dream project I'd love to be able to take some time off and get into. 

8. Not a western question- but I never thought an artist could approach John Buscema as the definitive Conan artist, and in my mind you have done so. You have said that the (very western-like) Robert E. Howard Conan story "Beyond the Black River" sums up the theme of the character: that "the powers of civilization will always end up praying for a man with a sword." Do you think this helps explain the enduring (though vacillating) popularity of the western, as well?

TT: To a degree, sure. Sounds good, for certain types of Westerns. Call it the High Noon syndrome, I suppose? Of course, there are some great tales that explore what happens when you pray for that guy and he finally comes: I'm thinking of The Unforgiven here, and a few others. Just goes to prove what I was talking abuot earlier: take the genre, turn it's conventions inside out, and fish through the guts awhile with your bare hands. You'll find a story that's worth writing about or drawing. 

9. Do you have any recent or upcoming projects you'd like to make us aware of?

TT: The two that I mentioned above: The Rory Gallagher box set that just came out. That was a really cool project to be involved with, since I'm such a Rory Gallagher fan, and also because of the fact that there's never, ever been anything like it ever done.; And the Scout: Marauder project that one of my publishers has asked Ben and me to work up a pitch for. That's really exciting. I've wanted to return to the Scout saga for a long time, and people are always asking me when I'm going to get back to it. So it seems the time has come. Stay tuned!

Visit Timothy Truman's website and order some of these great books! www.timothytruman.com

Many thanks to Tim for visiting us today!

-Troy D. Smith


  1. I've been recommending the Simon Girty graphic novel to my history students.

  2. Also recommending these series and gifting many..

  3. Well, this opens up a whole new spectrum. Of course I'm going to have to start laying my hands on these since Timothy is from West Virginia, where my husband Gary is from and where we lived for many, many years. I suspect that once I tell him the author is from his neck of the woods, hubby will be waiting in line to read these comics when I'm done with them. Absolutely wonderful post, Troy. Timothy is a very interesting guy!

  4. I enjoy learning and this was a good lesson. Thank you.

  5. I never saw any of these comics before. I feel like I've really missed out on some exciting reading. Growing up, I was into Little Lulu and Casper the Ghost. Now I see I missed some great ones. What a great blog. I loved all the graphics you included. They're really quite beautiful.