Tim Truman talks "Conan the Cimmerian"

After taking the reigns from Kurt Buseik to round out Dark Horse's 50-issue "Conan" series, writer Tim Truman will be chronicling the next chapter in the life of Robert E. Howard's famous barbarian in "Â"Conan the Cimmerian",Â" which sees the title character take a return trip to his birthplace in Cimmeria. CBR News caught up with the writer to get the details on the book, which launches this week.

There have been countless versions of Conan over the ears by as many authors, but the only Conan stories that influenced Truman were those written by Robert E. Howard himself. "In the Lancer paperbacks, I read Carter and de Camp's expansions on some of Howard's fragments and such, but as far as full-length novels go, I never read the pastiche by other authors," Truman told CBR News. "I was only interested in Howard's Conan."

That said, Truman had as a teenager been a fan of other series that was inspired by Howard's Conan. "John Jake's 'Brak the Barbarian' was a favorite, the first Gardner Fox 'Kothar' novel, some of the Henry Kuttner tales, Lin Carter's 'Ganelon Silvermane,' Wagner's 'Kane' books, things like that," Truman said. "But Conan was always the king with me."

Truman said that Howard divided the barbarian's life into a handful of distinct phases. When Dark Horse suggested they re-launch "Conan" under a new name, it came at the perfect time in the character's chronology. Explained Truman, "That approach is pretty much in the tradition of Conan books that have been released since the Lancer editions of the 1960's and 70's �" 'Conan the Adventurer,' 'Conan the Conqueror,' 'Conan Usurper,' etc. Since those Lancer editions were such an inspiration to me in my pre-teen and teen-aged years, there was a certain nostalgia to the idea that appealed to me. The newer 'Conan' book editions pretty much continued that tradition."

In Dark Horse's first "Conan" series, the title character was a youthful burglar and vagabond with a devil-may-care attitude and a strong desire to see the world that his grandfather, Connacht, had told him lay beyond their homeland of Cimmeria. "Towards the end of the series, Conan experienced some things that knocked some of the naivety out of him," Truman said. "He's betrayed by his lover, meets treachery at every turn, loses a friend. When that friend is resurrected by magic and Conan has to kill him, he ends up feeling as though he has murdered the man." Of course, Conan would never admit that these things had affected him. "Sentimentality cuts against the grain of the personal codes of conduct and honor of his own culture. In 'Conan the Cimmerian,' we tackle the next phases: Conan as a freelance soldier-for-hire, leader of a band of roving raiders, and, later, pirate."

The first arc, issues #0 through #7, chronicles the dramatic events that make Conan's ready to venture into the world again and transition into his new career as a mercenary. "Conan feels compelled to return to his homeland for awhile, to wash the bitter taste of civilization out of his mouth," Truman said. "This is in accordance with some info that Howard told some fans in a letter that he wrote to them in the 1930s."

Conan's trip home causes him to reflect on the tales of the outside world that his grandfather had told him when he was a boy. Connacht had shared a wanderlust similar to that of his grandson's, but when the elder Cimmerian finally returned to the land of his birth, he was there to stay. The "Cimmeria" story arc explores the differences between Conan and his grandfather, and why Conan chooses not to settle down in the place of his birth. Conan's adventure in Cimmeria forces the barbarian to realize that people and their motivations are fundamentally the same the world over. Said Truman, "He came out of 'Conan' sort of embittered, though he'd never admit it. He comes out of the 'Cimmeria' arc more hardened and ready to 'grind the world beneath his sandaled heel.'"

The present-day narrative is intercut with Connacht's tales. "Parts of the tale are pretty heavy," Truman said. "There's a bit of psychology going on, and some of it is pretty subtle.  Not anything that's against the grain of the character or the way Howard portrayed him, of course.  That's one aspect which made writing the story a pretty challenging task. I didn't want to betray Howard's approach to the character, but I did want to dig a little deeper than folks have perhaps seen in other non-Howard Conan tales."

The present-day story is penciled by "Conan" regular Tomas Giorello, and the art for Connacht's tales is being provided by Richard Corben. Back when Cary Nord was penciling "Conan," Corben had approached then-editor Scott Allie about working on the book. "When Cary left the title, we started seeing ways to do something really interesting in the book," Truman said. "Conan's relationship with his grandfather was obviously quite important, and I wanted to really explore that aspect of the character. So the editors and I decided to expand the plot line and get into a really in-depth approach to this area of Conan's life, when he transitioned between two very significant eras in his overall saga.

"Corben's first two installments, in 'Conan the Cimmerian' #1 and #2, are extended pieces," Truman continued. "The last five that he does are shorter-- six to eight pages each. As Conan reconsiders the tales now that he's older, he comes to new realizations about them -- ones that will be important for him in making his final decision."

Truman, who was already a longtime fan of Corben's artwork, was particularly excited when the artist's pages came in. "Corben was a huge influence on my own illustration work and approach to storytelling, via his underground and European work and the stories he did for the Warren black and white comics mags," Truman said.

And when it comes to regular "Conan" artist Tomas Giorello, Truman said you can never go wrong with an Argentine artist. "The gauchos must put something in the beef down here," Truman remarked. "Tomas kicks my ass with every new installment he turns in.  His storytelling, his action scenes, his characterizations, working subtleties into facial expressions, the flow of his figures, his attention to detail-- every time he begins a new issue, he's made some paranormal evolutionary leap. It's been really amazing to watch. Plus, he's one of the nicest guys in the world."

Truman went on to say that Giorello and colorist Jose Villarubbia complement each other's work perfectly. "Folks who pick up 'Conan the Cimmerian' #0 and the rest of the first arc will see that Jose has developed a more watercolor-inspired technique that's simply astounding to look at."

Legendary artists Frank Cho and Joe Kubert are providing covers for the first issue of "Conan the Cimmerian," and Tim Truman couldn't be happier about it. "Joe's work was a particular joy to see," he said. "It brought things full circle for me-- some sort of massive collision of my teen-aged dreams and my professional reality. Robert E. Howard, Richard Corben and Joe Kubert were such major influences on my work when before I'd even dreamed that I'd ever have the chance to do this for a living."

More than that, Truman is a graduate of Joe Kubert's art school. "Getting the chance to work with one of your mentors-- much less three of them --  is always a pretty special thing, ain't it? It's great to be a gibbering fanboy again."

Where does Conan go from here? Howard never chronicled the end of Conan's life, so Truman is reluctant to speculate on the character's ultimate end. That said, Truman is in for the long haul. The wirter fully intends to follow the journey of Dark Horse's Conan from Barbarian to King, and all the stages in between. Said Truman, "Conan did a lot of things before he became king, and Robert E. Howard left scholars a definite map to piece together."

"Conan the Cimmerian" #0 hits stands this week.

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