Of Robert E. Howard’s many creations, the one pretty much everyone is familiar with would be “Conan.” The Barbarian’s adventures have been well documented in books, film and comics. In fact, as we recently learned, Conan’s going through some changes – the current comic series will relaunch at Dark Horse in May of 2008 with Tim Truman staying on as writer and artist Tomï¿½s Giorello joining the team. But lest you think Robert E. Howard was only interested in Conan, you’d be wrong.
Another one of Howard’s characters will be making a big splash in comics shortly. Solomon Kane, the 16th century puritan who wanders the earth in order to vanquish evil in all its forms, will return in a series from Dark Horse Comics in 2008. The series will be written by Scott Allie, an editor at Dark Horse and the author of “The Devil’s Footprints,” with an artist to be named later. As planning is still in the early stages, full publishing details aren’t finalized, but the first storyline is plotted as a five-issue limited series, which will be followed by a break and then another Kane series.
To get some early details, CBR News caught up with Allie to see what Dark Horse has planned for the wanderer.
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Scott, I admit that prior to this discussion I didn’t know that much about Solomon Kane. I was familiar with the basics, that he is a creation of Robert E. Howard, but outside of that my knowledge was pretty limited. I’m guessing there will be those in our audience in a similar boat as well. So for them-and myself, introduce us to the character Solomon Kane.
Sure. Of the three main Robert E. Howard characters – Conan, Kull, and Kane – Kane’s the one that exists in an actual historical era – the end of the sixteenth century. He’s a Puritan adventurer with a military history and he’s driven by a sense of vengeance. In my mind, he’s the craziest of the bunch. He’s the least admirable of these three, in terms of who you’d want to aspire to being, or who you might want to hang out with.
Based on what I’ve read about the character in my research, he doesn’t sound like the kind of guy I’d want to “hang with,” but hearing stories of his adventures would certainly be illuminating.
Talk about how Solomon Kane came to be published by Dark Horse.
Well, the long road is basically that we pushed to get Conan for years, and when it was sold to Paradox Enterprises, we became the comics publisher. We proved we knew how to do good Conan comics, and so when Paradox got the rights to all the Howard properties a few years later, we pushed to get all the comics rights. Kane was one of the ones we wanted to the most.
Why is that? Why is Solomon Kane a compelling character for Dark Horse to invest in? What are your hopes for this series at Dark Horse?
Well, he’s an iconic Howard character who bears no resemblance to Conan. By doing Kane, we don’t risk repeating what we’re doing with Conan – we get to take it somewhere else, because of the sharp contrast between characters. And Kane has never been done as successfully in comics as the other two Howard characters I mentioned.
Yeah, aside from a handful of comics from Marvel in the ’70s and ’80s, Kane isn’t well represented in comics.
Right, there have been some, but there’s no seminal run of Kane comics like the Severins on “Kull” or Buscema on “Conan.” So we’re starting from scratch – we get to make a distinct and in some ways first impression with the character. I want to flesh out the story of this guy as its never been done before and really create a full life for him around these adventures – the Howard originals â€” and reveal more of who he is than Howard was able to.
Scott, let’s talk story – what can you tell us about your plans for Solomon Kane?
I don’t want to say the name of the first arc just yet, because lately every time we announce something with Conan or Buffy, some other publisher immediately tries to publish or register a trademark using that name. But the first arc includes expanded versions of two Howard stories – “The Castle of the Devil” and “Death’s Black Riders.” The first issue picks Kane up traveling through the Black Forest after ending his military career. Puritans believed that God wanted all of us to have a purpose on this earth and Kane failed to find his true purpose in the military, so he’s wandering around Europe. He finds purpose in the form of demonic equestrians, rattling bones, and a nobleman with links to the real underworld. The first arc will be real heavy on dark adventure material, and not too bogged down with Who He Is and How He Came to Be. There’ll be a little of that – but the thing that Howard created that I find more compelling than sword and sorcery is a brand of horror-adventure where one genre didn’t cancel the other out. He’s unique in that way, and I look forward to working in that mold in Kane. His stories were real dark, real scary, and real weird, even though he had real masculine, competent heroes. It’s hard to balance those two things – most writers who’ve imitated Howard leaned more heavily on the adventure and the hero of it – people who write real scary things usually do so outside the presence of heroes. Heroes tend to make things less frightening, but not so in Howard’s hands.
As Kane doesn’t have as big a publishing history to draw upon as compared to Conan, I’m guessing you’ll be able to put your own mark on the character and his supporting cast. Talk a bit about who else will be seen in this series and which are brand new creations?
Because I sort of see Kane as a lunatic, and not the most admirable of Howard’s creations, we’re going to have important supporting characters, through which we’ll see Kane and his surroundings, his adventures. We’ll see him through other adventurers like Gaston l’Armon, who sort of challenges him, but isn’t really a match for him. Or John Silent, another traveler – a character named but not really developed by Howard – who’s amused by Kane’s eccentricities, but is happy to stand at his side. He’s got a healthy perspective on Kane’s obsession with vengeance, but still likes him. And I sort of think that’s where I am with the character and I hope where a lot of the readers wind up. I think you can thrill to the adventures of a guy like this while understanding that he doesn’t have it all together.
Now, Howard didn’t reveal much back story for Kane and, as far as my research informs me, there’s also never been an origin story. Do you plan on expanding his back story and maybe get into an actual origin?
Yeah, definitely. The thing is, Howard dropped hints about his origins all throughout the stories, although there’s a lot to be fleshed out in the comic. And Howard’s stories span a long period of Kane’s life – the people who really obsess about this stuff have a hard time coming up with exactly when things took place for the character, so I’ve decided for myself what the sequence is. And some of the adventures that Howard wrote, particularly the military stuff, take place earlier than the Castle of the Devil, by my figuring. So those are things that I’ll flashback to later. But I wanted to start Kane’s adventures in the Black Forest, when he’s first being exposed to the world of demons and magic and all that.
Do you feel with Solomon Kane you have a bit more freedom and leeway to take liberties in your interpretation of the character compared to say Conan where there’s a much larger, knowledgeable fan base with more material to draw upon?
Compared to Conan, yeah. But it’s more because of the amount of material than the fanbase. But at the same time, all I really want to do is figure out what Howard was really up to with the character and be true to that. I think I’ve been able to do that so far. When I’m deeper into the scripting, as I move forward with that, I think I’ll get to understand Howard better – even better than I’ve been able to after the years working on Conan. I think Howard had a real vision with these characters and it’s something I find real interesting. Conan’s had a profound effect on me. He’s not the kind of character I used to connect with. In a way, it’s sort of taught me a different way of connecting with a fictional character – that I don’t have to personally identify with the character, or believe what he believes, to believe in the character, to want to explore what the characters about. I can try to explore him from his own point of view, rather than from mine. If that makes any goddamn sense.
It absolutely does. So, what are the long term publishing plans for Solomon Kane and how far have you mapped out his adventures?
I see a real definite end, a way in which I want to end it. We’ll see if I get to do it that way or not. If I said I see seven miniseries in it, and then I write an eighth, anyone who remembers this interview will call me a sellout.
How did you come to be writing these adventures of Solomon Kane?
I edited the “Conan” comics from the start, as you know, and the plan was for me to edit all the Howard stuff. And then a bunch of stuff happened. With the “Hellboy” movie coming and the success of the “Buffy” comics, and the new “Umbrella Academy” comic, I was getting too busy. My assistant, my right-hand man and boon companion, Matt Dryer, had earned and more than earned a promotion, and with the promotion he needed a load of books to edit. My relationships with the creators of “Buffy,” “Hellboy” and “Umbrella” made it important that I stay with those books, whereas Howard ate a bullet seventy years ago, so he wasn’t gonna miss me. And of all those books, Matt had related most to the Howard material, hit it off the most with the Howard writers and artists, and contributed the most to the series. He’d brought Tony Harris on for his run of covers, he’d been working real closely with Cary Nord, and he just generally knew his shit. So he would run the Howard books, and I would just help get the new ones off the ground – Kull and Kane. Arvid Nelson had given me a great pitch on Kull, so he got that job. And I wasn’t hearing what I wanted to hear on Kane, so I felt like I needed to dig deeper in to the character and figure it out better for myself, before going out to find the talent. So I reread everything and it really started singing to me. I loved the world Howard created, loved how crazy the character was, and, despite my own godless upbringing, found something really compelling in his religious fervor. So whereas I’d started digging in in order to get a handle on who should write the character, instead I got a very specific idea of how I wanted to write it. I talked to Randy Stradley about it – Randy had edited me on some Star Wars stuff, and he had helped me early on with my “Devil’s Footprints” stuff. He’s always just been a great sounding board, inspiration, whatnot. So we started talking about maybe him editing me on Kane. [DH Publisher] Mike Richardson told me to write up a pitch and I gave him my full gameplan. He came back with some comments, Randy and Howard Properties/Paradox had some and then I had the job. I feel like I contributed to Conan in a certain way as an editor and that I got real close to the source material and that this is the next logical step – another way for me to contribute to what Howard left us.
Artistically, what goals do you have in bringing Solomon Kane to the printed page? What style should readers expect with this work?
That’s actually a better question for Randy. We’re talking a lot about styles, but right now it’s sort of wide open. Every time we discuss a new artist, I can feel my brain shift into a new gear in terms of how the book could feel and so far there are a few different gears that could really work.
Finishing up here, what else do you have in the works, Scott?
Well, I’m also working on the second “Devil’s Footprints” book with Paul Lee, which should come out sometime next year. It’s darker than the first one, harder, I think, on the main character. It’s a twisting sort of mystery story with some pretty horrific elements. Paul just penciled page 50 last week, and I saw it, and I thought, “Wow, we’re really doing a horror book now!” It gets downright nasty. Then on a slower track, I’m doing a book with Todd Herman, with whom I did “The Fog” a couple years ago.
Right, Todd mentioned that the other day when we spoke with him about “Cut,” the OGN he’s working on written by Mike Richardson.
Exactly. What we’re working on is a near-future western with horror and magical elements – a real scary take on what I hope the apocalypse looks like. Aside from Solomon Kane, I have a few of these more small-press, more personal graphic novels cooking. It takes forever to get those off the ground though.
Well, good luck and we’ll talk again once details on this new Kane series are solidified. Thanks, Scott.
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