David Lapham, creator of “Stray Bullets” and “Young Liars” and writer of the upcoming Dark Horse miniseries “The Strain,” once again brings his savage sensibility to the world of Robert E. Howard’s warrior king Kull for a four-issue miniseries launching this month. “Kull: The Cat and the Skull” #1 is in stores now, adapting the Howard story of the same name while fleshing out the details of Kull’s world. This is Dark Horse’s third “Kull” miniseries and the second written by Lapham, who is joined by Gabriel Guzman on art.
Kull, like Howard’s Conan, is a barbarian who eventually rises to the status of king, though this happens much earlier in Kull’s career than Conan’s. The head that wears the crown lies especially uneasy in Kull’s case, as he remains a savage in the eyes of many of his subjects in Valusia and there are constant plots to unseat him from the throne. In the midst of striving to be a strong, just and long-reigning king, Kull must also contend with mystical adversaries and the knowledge that a great cataclysm is on the way.
Comic Book Resources spoke with Lapham about “Kull: The Cat and the Skull,” and all that title implies.
CBR News: You’ve now got one complete “Kull” series under your belt. How did you find the experience of writing “The Hate Witch?” Has your feeling or sense of these characters changed since you first took on the project?
David Lapham: From the beginning, I wanted to capture that thing that is Robert E. Howard. It’s something beyond the plot. It’s in the feeling and in the prose. At the same time, this is a comic book series from Dark Horse. There was a series that preceded mine and some new characters were added, most notably Kull’s wife Igraine, but also a slightly different take on Brule. I think overall my feeling has deepened as I’ve tried to not only capture that REH magic but also tried to make it my own. So I’m more at ease with the characters. This is a funny thing to say, because half my dialogue is taken directly from the REH text on this one.
I’ve done a few adaptations now, and they’ve all been of excellent works, but mostly they’re great stories and ideas well written to convey those stories and ideas. REH, though, is a writer. A real writer. His words and phrasings and prose are every bit as much a part of the reading experience as plot. The same way you admire, say, the drawing of Dave Mazzucchelli or Dave Gibbons for their line and gesture of the drawing, for the way they put ink on a page, for the way their art tells the story, beyond the way they stage the plot. REH is like that. Like Hemingway or Faulkner. Their language is distinct. That’s why I decided at the start to not use captions to tell the story. I felt the only way to get the REH feeling was to capture the feeling of savage Kull. I couldn’t try and ape his writing to get that feeling. Here, though, we have an adaptation, so I found myself coming to a scene, say, between Kull and the cat and I couldn’t “adapt” the dialogue. It’s so specific and evocative. All I could do was transcribe it, look at it and sometimes trim where it might have had repetitive points. (Space is at a premium in a comic.) And sometimes I would accommodate for a new character entering the scene. It was very weird because I hadn’t encountered that with other adaptations. The writing power of the author. That guy wrote pulp, but that guy could write with the best of ’em.
This new series revolves largely around a cat. What made you want to tell this story?
Well, it’s an adaptation of “The Cat And The Skull,” so the cat comes with the territory. It’s very interesting though to juxtapose big, hulking, savage Kull and this furry little Cat. Guess who wins?! The other notable about this story is that it features Kull’s and, ultimately, because of the old movie, Conan’s most feared adversary, Thulsa Doom. Besides the adaptation, there’s a lot more construct around just what was in the short story as we incorporate elements that link from the last series to the next series.
The cat, Saremes, is rumored to be a mystical being. What sort of storytelling possibilities does this open up?
The possibility is just that — the rumor of her being a mystical creature. That’s the heart of the dilemma and what causes so much trouble. Is the Cat what it claims to be? And, I don’t know, just the fact that the cat talks should be a really good clue.
Saremes, as depicted on the covers, just looks like a cute puffy cat. How does this image play off the more savage elements of Kull’s world?
How powerful must this little fuzzball be if she’s lived so many thousands of years in that body?
Why is Kull so keen to receive Saremes’ counsel?
It’s hard for Kull. Being a slave, then in the army and rising up to king is nothing compared with ruling once you get there. He can’t just hack every problem to pieces. Folks would get upset. The hardest thing for Kull is he wants to be a mighty king. He wants to restore Valusia to its former glory. He knows there’s a great cataclysm coming that will destroy the world, but he does not want it to be on his watch. The fading of Valusia as the world’s greatest empire seems to link to this event. Let the apocalypse come in a thousand years!
Anyway, Kull wants to be the great king, but his weakness is this political game. It gives him fits. Luckily, he has some savvy people around him, like Ka-nu, but still, I think, Kull wants that part of it to be as straightforward as the warrior side. Live right, see your enemies, hack them to bits. An ancient Cat that can see the future and give you those answers which lead to direct action is very appealing. Especially as there are so many enemies eroding his power base and poisoning the people against him. As a savage and non-native Valusian, Kull already has one foot in the gutter as far as the people are concerned.
There is a further magical element in “Cat and the Skull” with the snakemen and their mysterious commander, a wizard of considerable power. What can you tell us about what these adversaries are looking to accomplish and how that bumps up against Kull’s quest in this series?
Kull’s running adversaries are the Snake Men and their Serpent God. And they’re at work here. The whole goal is to bring down Kull as their enemy and what stands between them and this end-of-the-world scenario, which I imagine they feel will bring the fall of man and their own rise. They are tied directly into the REH story by the presence of the Wizard who is in not a serpent but in league with their god. Therefore, he can use them to further his own plans against Kull.
The last time we spoke about Kull, you told me that you hope to build a broader continuity around the character. How does the new miniseries expand on what you, personally, have already built up for this Howard hero? Are there any particular threads you’re following up from Dark Horse’s first Kull miniseries, which was written by Arvid Nelson?
Since we stay home in the City of Wonders, here we get to expand on the cast and develop many of the subplots which will carry from series to series. Valusia is trying to make peace with her neighbors from events that sparked unwanted conflict in “The Hate Witch.” Kull must continue that war in order not to be seen as weak but must also look for a victory and a way out. Igraine has a much expanded role and fit seamlessly into and out of the REH short story. Her and Kull’s relationship started as a political move, developed into mutual respect and then… And then nothing. There is an interesting element to the Kull stories as opposed to the Conan stories in that Kull is a far more serious character. He embraces his savage nature and he feels a tremendous weight of responsibility to do right as he sees it. Kull, though, has no interest in women romantically. He respects them, almost too much, but their intrigues and problems give him fits and he wants no part of it. Not that he’s tempted and has to stay away. He literally has no interest. Yet at the same time, there is no vibe I get from the stories that lead to the conclusion Kull has alternate sexual interests. It’s a very interesting element. It also doesn’t lead to a very happy or satisfying marriage for Igraine. She is a very noble woman, but those seeds of affection for another are slowly working their way into the larger narrative.
On another side, we introduce some characters from other REH short stories which we can use for future original stories. A lot of it plays into the elements that are constantly chipping away at Kull and his hold on the throne. So, yes, there are lots of elements that carry.
“Kull: The Cat and the Skull” #1 is on sale now