Tim Truman Interview

[Tim Truman Interview]Tim Truman's name has long been synonymous with strong, edgy characters, gritty, angular art and bare-fisted dialog. From the moment he and John Ostrander published their first issue of "Grimjack" fans have equated his art with the dark and dangerous side of comic book entertainment.

Since that time, Truman has gone on to write and illustrate several critically acclaimed comic books that have been used as textbooks on several college campuses ("Scout" and "Tecumseh") and even influenced the historical record of Canada and the United States ("Wilderness").

From dark sci-fi to bone-chilling horror to historical works, Truman's hand has touched nearly every genre of the comic book medium, and he's still going strong.

CBR News caught up with Truman to talk about his upcoming project with Marvel, a possible return to "Grimjack," and why he'll never work for Dark Horse Comics again.

Keith Giles: You've long been a champion of the Western comic. Why does this genre of comic so enamor you?

Timothy Truman: Pretty simple: I'm a big fan of mythology, and Westerns are the American mythology. I was raised on westerns. The first drawings that my mother and sisters can remember me doing were of the heroes of the "Branded" and "Johnny Yuma: Rebel" television shows, back when I was three years old or so. I was a big fan of "Cisco Kid," "The Lone Ranger," and "Hopalong Cassidy." For a long time there, I wouldn't answer to anyone if they called me anything other than "Cees-co." Luckily I outgrew that by the time I was nineteen or so!

KG: Any chance of re-launching a "Scout" or "Grimjack" series in the future?

TT: John Ostrander is making lots of headway in securing rights to do a new "Grimjack" series. Keep your fingers crossed. And I'd like nothing more than to be able to do "Scout: Marauder," the next part of the Scout series. However, it's hard to get any of the bigger publishers to take the chance. Ideally, what I'd like to do is offer a big, leather-bound hardcover graphic novel in black and white, which is truly how my work looks best, available via mail order or through a website, signed and numbered, a very deluxe treatment. I'd like to do the same thing with "Grimjack" [and release] a black leather, silver embossed book that would look like the Cynosure version of the "Necronomicon." But John would probably want to do it in a more commercially available format. I kind of like the more collectable approach, though. I'm sort of tired of playing by the rules (or non-rules) of this very fickle marketplace that comics are trapped in these days. I guess that's why the Unboundcomics.com treatment of "Wilderness" excites me so much -- it's a venue that isn't dependent on anyone but the readers. I think that hardcover collectible books, available directly from the creator for a comfortable price that both the reader and I could be comfortable with, would also be a very cool thing. The fantasy and horror markets have had things like that for years. Luckily, with "Scout" and "Grimjack," John Ostrander and I have two strong, respected properties that still have a following, even after all these years. Many creators and properties really don't have that sort of advantage, when you think about it.

KG: You've also been a major contributor in the comics realm to a more accurate representation of Native American culture. What about this culture appeals to you?

TT: I'm not sure why. It just always has. My great grandmother on my father's side was a full-blooded Cherokee. I've talked to family members who knew her and I have copies of photos of her. My Grandfather's nickname was "Chief," because of his Cherokee heritage. He used to make all sorts of things for me when I was a little kid -- bows and arrows and stuff. I've found out that some of his relatives were herbalists, and that they learned a lot form Great Grandmother's wing of the family. In any case, for whatever reason, though I don't really consider myself Native American, I've just always been attracted to Native American culture and history.

I've always tried to portray Native Americans in a respectful but un-patronizing way. It's great that many Native Americans have written me to tell me that they've liked my books. A Sioux business leader bought the first page of "The Lone Ranger and Tonto" comic that I did with writer Joe R. Lansdale. And both "Scout" and "Wilderness" have been used in classes concerning Native American literature and media. In "Scout's" case, by an Apache teacher at the University of Washington.

KG: You've done a lot of writing for the Star Wars titles at Dark Horse. Any new projects planned for the SW universe?

TT: Sorry to say, no. I had some very disturbing experiences with Dark Horse when I was doing those books. I got along great with Lucasfilm and I think that the stories themselves were some of the best I've ever written, at least in the original scripts. Lucasfilm certainly seemed to like them, and were overjoyed by the fact that they never had to ask for many revisions. I really did my homework, and was really proud of the stories and of being associated with the property. Plus I got to develop the Aurra Sing bounty hunter character for them, which was a real blast. However, with a few notable exceptions, the artwork never served the stories very well and I felt it should. Finally, I was to be the main writer and plotter of a book crossover project that became the "Jedi's Quest" miniseries. I waited for a year and put several projects on hold while the other interested parties were getting their act together and the job just didn't materialize. It really put me under some financial strain, because Dark Horse had specifically asked me to dedicate my writing services to the "Jedi's Quest" project and forego any other offers. Yet when the project was put on hold, they didn't offer me a shred of make-up work. Finally, I was told by Dark Horse that the project was cancelled. Yet, several months later, lo and behold, it appeared as both a comic book and a Scholastic Books series. Just about all of the main characters and villains that I'd specifically created in my original plot for the series were used in both, and 80% of the story follows events and themes that I'd developed in my original treatment. However, I get no mention whatsoever in the credits for either release. I felt a bit bad about that, to say the least. So I guess I'm done with Star Wars as far as Dark Horse is concerned, and I feel pretty certain that they've poisoned the well for me at Lucasfilm in the meantime.

I might just be taking it too hard and too personal, I don't know. I did a lot of stuff during that period that I'm real proud of. Both my writing and my artwork took a big leap that I was all too aware of. But any advances I made creatively happened at exactly the worst time they could, as far as the continuum that is the comic book industry is concerned. I was shattered by the way that most of the Star Wars stories turned out. They could have been such grand space operas, and most of them had a depth to them that some of the artists were never able to really get to. So it goes.

KG: What new projects do you have on the fire right now?

[JLA: Gatekeeper #3]TT: The "JLA:Gatekeeper" series just finished at DC. That's a three issue prestige series that I worked for about a year and a half on. I just did illustrations for the next "Wild Cards" book [called] "Deuces Down" from iBooks. That was really great, not only to be working with George R.R. Martin again, who is one of my favorite writers and people, but also to be able to sit back and do some illustrations outside of comics. The assignment was especially interesting because, due to the comic book and superhero influences on the "Wild Cards" concept, I broke the illustrations down like comic pages. They have panels, like comics, yet they look like book illustrations. It was a fun experiment that really turned out well.

I've also been doing some game illustrations. I just did some for the folks at White Wolf and I just got a call from Palladium Books, whom I've worked with before. Great folks. Doing the game illustrations is a real kick. I got my start a game illustrator with SPI Games and TSR Hobbies/Dungeons & Dragons. So it was like coming home. I've had very little chance to do fantasy illustration as a comic book artist, yet that was always and will always remain my favorite genre to illustrate. It's where I feel the most comfortable. I'd like to do more game illustrations.

I'm doing a CD cover for a popular local band jam called Porch Chops. The CD will be called "Salmon Chanted Evening." Love the title. I'm also doing some commissions, which is great. I love to do those when I have the chance. Again, it's a chance to do some big full-page illustrations instead of a page filled with little tiny heads and figures in panels.

In any case, I wanted to take a break from comics for a few short months. The "JLA:Gatekeeper" project was pretty intense. I did the stories, the penciling the inking, and painted the covers. Plus, I kept getting offered comics jobs that I just can't wrap my head around, much less set pencil to. The chance to do Science Fiction, adventure, horror, or fantasy comics just doesn't come up these days like it did a few years back. The market just doesn't support it. Or that's what the publishers think, anyway.

KG: Anything else?

TT: I'm glad to say that it seems like a really, really cool comics project seems to be taking shape at Marvel Knights. Stuart Moore, my old "Jonah Hex" editor at Vertigo, hit me with an idea that he wants me to work on with Joe R. Lansdale. Another project I'm penciling is two covers for Tim Tyler's Shadow Planet comics imprint. One of the comics is called "Denizen." Tim Tyler will be inking. Tim is a really nice guy, great inker and fellow southerner, and we've always wanted to work together.

Aside from that, Joe and I are also working on a screenplay and novel idea together. And I'm in the studio again with the band that I produce and play lead guitar for, the "Terry Strongheart Band." Terry is a Cherokee singer and songwriter -- incredibly talented vocalist and performer. The last CD we did, "Tears," is getting airplay on several National Public Radio and Native American radio stations. Last year, we played all summer at outdoor festivals and Native American events. We're getting pretty popular out here. It's a fantastic band. The group's sound is sort of like a southern rock take on Eagles or Tom Petty style of roots rock. Very guitar oriented, with great vocals. It's a great band, the best I've ever been involved with. And it's really positive music. We have a lot of fun, but people listen to us very seriously. Also related to the music front, I continue to do a lot of work for Grateful Dead Merchandising.

Finally, I have to mention that I'm helping Sam Glanzman find a publisher for the many drawings, sketches, and illustrations that he did on letters and in his diaries in the Pacific during World War 2. We have a historical publisher interested in that. I'd be writing the text about Sam's memories of his many experiences during the war. I'm really excited about that, the drawings are amazing and constitute a genuinely valuable American historical document.

KG: Many see the Western comic as a "dead genre" but you've managed to create very interesting "pseudo-western" books like "The Kents" and "Scout" which appeal to many who wouldn't normally pick up a western, per se. Do you feel that there is still potential for Western comics in the year 2002?

TT: Sure. Just like I felt there was a potential for it when I did "Scout," "Jonah Hex," "Wilderness" and "The Kents." It all depends on the story. I've found that you have to put an original spin on the genre. You can't do tributes or pastiches. It has to have guts (in the case of some of the books I did, quite literally!), it has to have humor, it has to have soul and it has to have hair on its balls. Westerns are myths wrapped around humans. The more human, the better the mythology.

KG: Marvel published a critically acclaimed (but now out of print) book called "Blaze Of Glory" which took a new look at some of their older Western characters. This May they'll publish "Apache Skies" under the Max Imprint as a follow-up. Does this bode well for the future of the western comic or do you see these as just the odd attempt to "test the waters" for fan interest?

TT: My buddy John Ostrander did those, and did a great job of them. I think that John would agree that the response to the first "Jonah Hex" series that Joe and I did made the little western mini-resurgence possible. It made "The Kents" possible to sell. It made "Desperadoes" possible to sell. Just about every writer I know wants to do westerns, but you have to have a book out there to point to when you pitch your idea to an editor. Luckily, an editor pitched the possibility of Hex to Joe and me, so that made it easier to get off the ground. Once Joe and I did what we did and "Mucho Mojo" got respectable sales and a Bram Stoker Award, the door was cracked open for other things. We didn't kick it open, but we cracked it a bit and I'm pretty pleased with that.

However, that's the way my career has always seemed to go. You have to remember that when John and I first did "Grimjack," fantasy and SF books were considered taboo. "Grimjack" and Chaykin's "American Flagg" helped change that. No one had done a book starring a Native American character since "Turok," "Tonto," and "Johnny Cloud, The Navajo Ace." All those books were long gone by the time I did "Scout." I took a chance and it worked. And "Wilderness," an historical biography, has gone through five re-printings now, and is about to get its sixth on the internet via Unbound Comics. I feel pretty fortunate. I don't feel like I draw that well, but people seem to latch on to the fact that I'm really into the material and characters.

If you have good characters, people will read the story. That's the case with any sort of fiction. However, in comics we get into a real problem of segregating subject matter. It's very strange.

KG: You've worked on and off with John Ostrander over the years with much success. Any new plans to work with John down the road?

TT: Few things would please me more. Hopefully we'll get that chance sometime soon.

KG: If you could work on any character or title, what would be your "dream" project?

[Grimjack #1]TT: For comics? "Grimjack" was my dream project, in many ways. It summed up everything I'm into: fantasy, science fiction, weirdness, comedy, and tough guys. I'd love to do "Grimjack" again. Other than "Grimjack?" I'd kill to do "Elric of Melnibone." I'd kill to do "Road Warrior." I'd like to do an adaptation of "Metropolis." I'd love to do DC's "Tomahawk." Doing "Challenger's Of The Unknown" would be very cool. Give me a shot at those two. Or "Baron Srucker," or "Nick Fury" or "Doctor Strange."

I'd like to do adaptations of Viking myths (I thought I was going to have a chance to do that, but the anthology that I was going to do it for went on hiatus). Alcantena, whom I worked with on "Hawkworld" and "The Spider," wanted to do a story called "Lawgiver," the tale of the real Native American legend Hiawatha. The Hiawatha of actual legend is not the one that Longfellow butchered in his poem. The Iroquois Hiawatha was the person who gave the laws to the Iroquois Confederacy that were adapted to become the framework of the Constitution of the United States. His stories read like Native American swords and sorcery stories. They're pretty amazing.

Outside of comics? I'd like to do T-shirts for the Allman Bothers Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Hawkwind. No kidding. That would be fine with me.

KG: Last year there were rumblings that "Scout" was being optioned as a live action film with a "well-known" actor showing much interest in the lead role. Where is this now?

TT: Native American writer Sherman Alexie, who wrote the award winning film "Smoke Signals," was writing a treatment for a "Scout" film. He bowed out. Hollywood was just too much BS for him, I think. We stay in touch. He's been doing a lot of indy film work and experimenting with digital camera films. I get calls for a "Scout" movie at least twice a year, though. Someday, it might happen. Carlos Santana called me wanting to pitch the film to a well-known producer. Carlos is crazy for the "Scout" character and would like to see it as a film or TV series as much as I would, I think. Very flattering. Someday it will happen. Sometimes I think "Scout" has a life of his own. He comes when needed. I'm not too worried about it.

KG: Were you a fan of the older Western comics published by Marvel ("Two-Gun Kid," "Rawhide Kid," "Wyatt Earp," etc.?)

TT: I liked "Two Gun Kid" -- the Kirby version. I thought he was very cool. But I didn't collect western comics until Tony DeZuniga was drawing "Jonah Hex." Those killed me. DeZuniga is one of the unacknowledged Masters. I also loved Frank Thorne's "Tomahawk" and "Son Of Tomahawk."

KG: You've said you feel that Grimjack was one of the first "dark and gritty" anti-heroes now made popular by characters like Wolverine, Lobo, The Punisher, etc. How much of an influence do you feel that Grimjack really played in the way these modern characters are portrayed?

TT: Way more than he's ever given credit for. Grimjack preceded Miller's "Dark Knight" by almost a year. It preceded "Ronin," for that matter. It preceded "Watchmen." It preceded the successful run of "The Punisher," and I'm quite sure that it was responsible for Marvel even resurrecting the character. Before "Grimjack," the books closest American comic book cousins were Gil Kane's "His Name Is Savage," Gulacy and MacGregor's amazing "Sabre," Chaykin's "Iron Wolf" and the space stories he did for Byron Preiss and a handful of very neat undergrounds. We had Warren magazines. We had the black and white "Conan" magazines. Plus there was a whole world of comics in Europe that the US wasn't even seeing except for brief but powerful glimpses in Heavy Metal. As far as mainstream or indy color comics go, "Grimjack" sliced a swath right through the side of the envelope. It wasn't solely responsible for the "grim and gritty" movement, but it was absolutely one of the main instigators. It's hard to believe looking at the book now -- some of the things seem relatively tame now -- but we did things in that book, violence and theme-wise, that just were not done in monthly color comics up to that time. Pretty strange, considering what has come after.

[Scout]I also think that "Scout" had a huge effect on the movement and certainly ushered in a wave of Native American characters. I also think that "Scout" had an effect on the research writers started to do on their stories, and also helped promote a certain sense of novel-like continuity that comics got more and more into.

KG: You're one of those rare creators who's both an artist and a writer. Which do you prefer doing? If you could only do one, which would you choose?

TT: I can't choose. I still do one even if I had to make a living doing the other. I'd like to take more time for single illustrations and writing, though, I really would. I'd like to work on a novel or two, and the novel/screenplay project with Joe R. Lansdale is a step in that direction. He'll do the screenplay from my plot, and I'll do my novel from my plot and his screenplay, expanding on what's in the screenplay. We're pretty excited about it. It has to do with Dracula, but from the viewpoint of a prominent side character in the book. It's a really neat concept. Wait and see.

KG: Which of your previous works are you most proud of and why?

TT: Well, number one is "Wilderness," without a doubt. That one actually helped change the historical perception of a guy who actually lived. I'm real proud of that fact. Close behind would be "Scout" and "Grimjack," without a doubt.

I'm proud of the original "Hawkworld" prestige miniseries and the fact that it got a Spains Haxtur Award that year. I always wanted to be an underground artist, a Warren artist, or a European artist, but I thought that I drew way too badly to ever get recognized in Europe. So I was quite proud of the fact that "Hawkworld" was recognized over there. Of course, having Alcatena inking it was a big plus! Still, folks over there told me that they really chose the book because of the story. Readers over there that I talked to got all the little story and character bits that I put in there. That was pretty amazing to me.

A few of my Grateful Dead jobs are by far the best artwork that I've ever done. I wish more comics fans could see that stuff.

As "artist only," I like the first Jonah Hex miniseries, "Mucho Mojo." But the best art I've done in any single comics story is on the "Brer Hoodoo" short story I did with Joe for Vertigo's "Flinch" anthology.

As "writer only," I'm REALLY proud of a book that I did with Scott Eaton, "The Creature Commandoes." That book had it all, and working with Eaton was one of the most inspiring experiences I've ever had. The "Prowler" stories are also very cool, and get pretty deep, too, by golly, if one knows what they're looking for.

Click to enlarge.

KG: Can you talk about the plot of "The Wilderness?"

TT: "Wilderness" is the true story of Simon Girty, a renegade who fought during the era of the American Revolutionary War and the Ohio Valley Indian Wars. Girty had a rather traumatic and eventful life. He was captured, with his brothers, by Indians, in the 1750's. He lived several years with them, and after his release became a highly respected trader and scout at Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania. At the beginning of the revolution he served the American side as a spy and messenger. However, during General Hand's campaign in Ohio he saw some women, children and old people killed when Hand invaded an Indian village. Soon after, he was caught up in some political backwash and was denied a promotion and pay that he thought he deserved. He decided that he'd leave the Americans and fight on the sides of the British and Indians. He served the Brits as a scout and Indian liaison. He never held a high rank until much later in his career, but because he was seen traveling with Indian war parties the Americans assumed that, since he was a white man among "savages," he was obviously leading the Indians.

In truth, the Indians were quite capable of creating their own strategies and tactics. Anyway, as a result, any time whites were massacred along the frontier the blame was usually laid on Girty. In truth, Girty tried to help free at least 21 American captives from the Indians while he was employed by the British and was well liked by all who knew him. Despite that he was branded a traitor and exiled to Canada, and his memory has been forever cursed in American historical texts.

KG: Why did this character interest you?

TT: Because the more I read about him, the less evidence there seemed to be that he was the monster that American history said he was. My books were the first to offer evidence that most of the history about him was false. I'm pleased to say that my "Wilderness" graphic novels and the subsequent collected edition have had a very positive effect how Girty is now viewed. An official memorial was erected to him at Fort Malden in Canada. And last year America gave its first nod towards reconciliation with him: a marker was erected at Fort Hunter, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I was asked by the Girty descendants to attend the event, and the family made me an honorary member. It was a very proud moment for me.

KG: You realize that, other than your book, that there are pretty much no books in print about Simon Girty at all?

TT: Yep, I know that. There are a few, but not many. Signed and numbered hardcovers of the first edition of the "Wilderness" series were selling at some antiquarian book sites for $500 for the set! A friend of mine was writing a big two-volume history of Girty. He worked on it for years and had much of it done. However, his wife died a few years back, he lost heart in the book, remarried a Phillipino woman and is now living in the Phillipines helping against the rebels! His book would have been the definitive one. We shared much info over the years. We disagreed about some stuff, but it was fun.

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KG: This title has long been out of print and now will be available online at Unboundcomics.com. Are there any plans to make your other O.P. books available in the future such as "Scout" or "Dragon Chiang?"

TT: Actually, the book was reprinted by a publisher in Canada a few years ago, so copies are available for those who want the actual book (For ordering info, contact Timothy Truman at t.truman@verizon.net). However, I'm very excited about the deal I've made with Unbound. They seem like real nice folks and they're very straightforward in their arrangements. They've offered a great new avenue for folks to obtain the book, in it's original version, on-line.

As for other projects, that would be great. "Tecumseh!" is the property of the Allan W. Eckert, the playwright, and the people who do the outdoor drama every year in Chilicothe, Ohio. However, "Scout" and "Dragon Chiang" are indeed contenders for the Unbound treatment, as are other properties that I own, like "Black Lamb," "Time Beavers" and "The Prowler."

KG: When comic book fans look back over your life and your contributions to the world of comics twenty years from now, what do you hope they say and feel about your work?

TT: That I did projects and subjects that I felt good about, and that I wasn't afraid to do research. That I treated my books as seriously as if I was writing a "real" novel or movie. And that the work had hair on its balls, I guess!

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