First of all, an interview with David Lapham about Kull: The Hate Witch.
Dark Horse announced Sunday at Comic-Con International in San Diego that David Lapham, acclaimed creator of "Stray Bullets" and "Young Liars," will be wielding his mighty pen on a miniseries starring the original Robert E. Howard barbarian, Kull... Lapham's "Kull: The Hate Witch" launches in November with art by Gabriel Guzman of "Predators" fame and CBR News caught up with the writer to discuss his take on Kull's world.
So Arvid's off Kull, at least for now. I think you guys know how I feel about this. Still, I'll let the following graphic encapsulate that.
Although most of Dark Horse's R.E. Howard titles are based at least partly on existing Howard stories and fragments, "The Hate Witch" originated wholly with Lapham.
"'The Hate Witch' is my own invention. I definitely draw heavily on Howard's stories (how can you not?!), but it was important to me to come up with something new," Lapham said. "The fans know the Howard stories. The challenge is to create something that feels like those beloved stories, that is firmly set in that world, but adds to it.
Well, even though the very title "The Hate Witch" gives me pause, hey, he has a point. We shouldn't look to past pastiches for inspiration: we should look to the original Howard for inspiration, and new takes on them. I think it'd better to adapt the original stories first, but sure, why not.
"As I said, though, I do draw on all of Howard's mythology to make the world, the same as you have to draw on Lee and Kirby if you were doing 'Fantastic Four,' for instance. Specifically, I draw on the very first Kull story 'Exile of Atlantis' because it's the only story that deals with Kull in Atlantis and in my story Kull must return to his homeland to save his empire."
I'm... reserved so far. Why would Kull need to go back to Atlantis to save Valusia? It could go alright, it could be disastrous. More info needed.
Lapham said that he will be picking up some time after the events of the previous Dark Horse "Kull" miniseries, which was written by Arvid Nelson. "It was important to me to set the story firmly in Kull's reign as King of Valusia. Dark Horse has done one Kull book so far, which was an expansion of 'The Shadow Kingdom.' I wanted to pick up after that," Lapham told CBR. "Not necessarily the day after , but following in line from that. My secret hope is to be able to do more Kull stories and I really would like to establish some sort of continuity base. Even if it's not me [writing them], I think the fans would like to explore Kull's world. There're only about a dozen Kull stories and some of them are fragments, yet it's easily as rich a world as Conan's. It deserves and can support an expansion of that world.
Well, the first thing that springs to mind is why is it so imperative to stay with Kull's reign? I would've thought that the first thing one would do to flesh out Kull was to go back to his life before becoming king: his time on a Lemurian Galley, his youth in Atlantis, his piracy on the high seas, his reign as the mightiest gladiator of the Thurian Age? Why not go back there, instead of doing more King stories, when almost every Kull tale is set during his reign? Still, I appreciate the vote of confidence for the Thurian Age's richness.
"Having said that, Kull is king and relatively new, though not a 'rookie' anymore. He's married to Igraine, who was an invention of the first Kull book and adds a lot, in my opinion," the writer continued, explaining Kull's status as the book opens
Yay, I'm so glad that Igraine is returning! She was such a wonderful, fascinating, unusual character that is always referenced in the Kull stories, and totally squares with what we know of Kull's relationship with women! (this paragraph took a while to write, as I was having to type between the clenching and unclenching of my fists.)
"The wolves are at the door from within and without and Kull has his hands full keeping the empire together. The Howard stories talk of a great cataclysm that ultimately ends Kull's age—The Thurian Age. When the world rises again it becomes Conan's world. Meanwhile, though, Kull is vaguely aware of prophecies concerning this eventual doom and it hangs over his reign.
"Now there's nothing saying this cataclysm happens anywhere close to Kull's time, but the great kingdom of Valusia is in decline and the fact that a barbarian even sits on the throne is in itself a disturbing sign that Kull has to overcome. It's like the Goths ruling Rome. Anyway, I definitely want to turn up the pressure on that element and I'd love to see it as the thread that ties the 'Kull library' together."
... Oh Valka. I don't like where this is going. What is with people who insist on shoehorning prophecies into the world of Kull? Yes, there are references to the cyclical nature of civilization, but that does not equate to a freaking prophecy.
On top of the unrest throughout the kingdom that threatens to unseat Kull, the hero is also contending with the titular Hate Witch, Heka-La, who "comes to court and declares this cataclysm is going to be caused by Kull 'The Doom King,'" Lapham said, "which as you can imagine, does wonders for his approval ratings.
"The Hate Witch we establish is from Atlantis. She was a creature of the Old Race and blames man for the downflall of her race," the writer continued. "Through Kull she hopes to bring about the fall of man."
Accomplishing her ends means throwing Kull up against still more deadly challenges and men who'd love to see him dead. "The witch forces Kull to return to the land of his exile, which is basically an entire continent of barbarians like Kull, each sworn to hate and kill him," Lapham said. "Now it's been many years since Kull left his homeland, but these are not people who change much. Or forget."
... Ok. Let's analyse this.
We have a witch of the Old Race, who somehow survived in Atlantis despite it being a place populated by barbarians. She declares that Kull will be responsible for a future Cataclysm, which causes tension in the court and populace (quite why the people of Valusia should believe this Old Race Witch I guess will have to be explained). It's strange that the witch should target Kull when she should know that it was the ancestors of the Valusians who conquered and destroyed the Old Race. Then, how exactly does she intend to use Kull to bring Man down? Again, this could be good, or it could be bad.
Lapham has been writing barbarians of a very different sort over in "Sparta USA," his creator-owned miniseries illustrated by Johnny Timmons and published by Wildstorm. Asked what appeals to him about such warrior-like characters, Lapham said, "Everybody likes a guy who's got the stones to stand up to the corrupt elements of society and back it up. A guy who's honest and direct and can hack through the Gordian Knot. It's like that commercial with the Firefighters running Congress. The quickest path from A to B is a straight line. It's honest. No bull. Plus he just kicks ass. And Robert E. Howard kicks ass. Also let's be honest, Kull is way cooler than Conan."
I had prepared myself to take the crown, not to hold it. In the old free days all I wanted was a sharp sword and a straight path to my enemies. Now no paths are straight and my sword is useless.
Just thought I'd throw that in there.
Also let's be honest, Kull and Conan are just cool in different way.
The next piece of news is from Paul Tobin.
In a trio of Robert E. Howard-related announcements that included a new Kull miniseries by David Lapham and a Solomon Kane mini by Bruce Jones, Dark Horse revealed at Comic-Con International in San Diego that it would launching an anthology series featuring REH heroes including Conan, Kull, and Kane but also lesser-known characters like Dark Agnes, El Borak, Bran Mak Morn, and Sailor Steve Costigan. "Savage Sword" will launch in December in a series of 80-page perfect-bound comics which will include original adventures and classic, recolored reprints in each issue, as well as bonus material. The title, of course, hearkens back to classic Conan magazines, and the first issue of the anthology will feature work by Paul Tobin, Wellinton Alves, Mark Finn, Tim Bradstreet, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor Smith, Tim Conrad, Gil Kane, Esad Ribic, and many more.
A comic that'll hearken back to the old Conan magazines, and bring us comic adaptations of El Borak, Steve Costigan, Bran Mak Morn, and my girl Dark Agnes?
Hey... this is cool. I'm... actually looking forward to this! Could it be that I'm... optimistic? Surely not, it must be something I ate. An undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.
For more information, CBR News spoke with writer Paul Tobin, who is providing a new Conan story to the inaugural issue of "Savage Sword."
Introducing the core of the new anthology, Tobin said, "Editor Samantha Robertson is bringing in new stories with a mix of Howard's characters, so while there's going to be plenty of new material concerning Conan, Solomon Kane, Kull, and so on, the title is also going to feature characters like Dark Agnes and Sailor Steve Costigan. That's going to be fun, too, for while it's amazing to work on icons like Conan, it's fun to be part of a team that's establishing the looks and feels of ‘lost’ characters as well."
I never like the sound of "lost characters." Heck, can any of Howard's characters really be considered "lost" when so many of them are in print today? It's like when people talk of Solomon Kane as "almost forgotten" despite him having multiple comic series and current RPGs in addition to the original stories still being in print. And a movie.
Tobin is leading off the new "Savage Sword" anthology series with a story featuring perhaps Howard’s most famous creation, Conan. "It's a focus on Conan's days of thievery... an aspect of his personality that I've always loved," Tobin told CBR. "There are plenty of hulking brutes who can mow down their enemies with great swipes of their broadsword, and that's certainly a major part of Conan's skill set, but what I always liked was that he can ALSO sneak his way past any guard, climb any tower, and pull any heist. In my story, he sets his sights on liberating a very special jewel. Then things go wrong. Then they go worse. Conan has to show off his sword arm in order to come out of this one." Tobin’s story will run through the first three issues.
The writer said he enjoys writing about Conan’s "younger, wilder time--not that he ever really settles down." "He's hardly the type to paint the picket fence and make sure the cupboard has plenty of decaffeinated coffee," Tobin said. "I love the younger time periods because he has that whole thieving thing going on... I like a wry rogue who can still cleave off a few deserving heads."
I'm not a great fan of the thief tales outside "The Tower of the Elephant," but they are very popular among many fans. I'd certainly characterize it as a wilder time, too.
Overall, Savage Sword looks very interesting. This'll hopefully offer some of the best Howard tales not linked to Conan, Kull or Solomon Kane a chance in the spotlight, in addition to those already mentioned. Some seem obvious choices: "The Valley of the Worm," "Marchers of Valhalla," "The Grey God Passes," "Lord of Samarkand," "Pigeons from Hell," "Skull-Face" and whatnot. Me, I'm looking out for "Dig Me No Grave," "Tigers of the Sea" and "The Black Bear Bites." Lal Singh and Ace Jessell would be pretty awesome too.
Solomon Kane: Skulls in the Stars
Sadly, it can't all be great. Also announced is quite possibly the worst piece of news I've heard in a long time. Almost - not quite, but almost - as bad as the Conan Casting Sheet.
... a new "Solomon Kane" miniseries by Bruce Jones and Rahsan Ekedal
Dark Horse's first two volumes of "Solomon Kane" expanded upon Howard's unfinished story fragments "The Castle of the Devil" and "Death's Black Riders," and both series were written by editor Scott Allie. Jones's first four-issue miniseries, though, adapts a published REH story, "Skulls in the Stars," in which Kane chooses a path he has been warned against in order to confront and vanquish a terrible evil. Chronologically, the story is set after "Red Shadows" (1579-80) and before "Blades of the Brotherhood." (1588-90). "Most of the Kane stories first appeared in 'Weird Tales,' but the order of publication doesn't match the order they were written in. In terms of real life historical chronology, we're beginning around 1587 which is where the Wandering Star/Ballantine Books began," Jones said.
It would be nice if they stated how these dates are uncertain, but since they're far more in line with Howard's dating of 1580, I'm appreciative enough for the thought. What's this about the Wandering Star/Ballantine Books beginning in 1587? Does he just mean how both Wandering Star/Ballantine Books (aka Del Rey) have "Skulls in the Stars" as the first Kane story in the volumes?
"Adapting any medium to another is like translating French to English; you're always going to lose something and gain something else, but you can also lose by gaining things undesirable," the writer explained. "The trick is knowing when not to let the source material work against you. It's interesting; one tends to think of Howard as a very visual, action-oriented writer. But even though comics is a visual medium, some of Howard's most descriptive, almost poetic prose can actually make for some rather slow, protracted comic scenes. The challenge for me was retaining as much Howard flavor within the strengths and limitations of the graphic format.
Again, the person speaking here is Bruce. Jones. Tell me, Bruce, what parts of Howard's descriptive, almost poetic prose make for "slow, protracted comic scenes"? How does that work? How can text transformed into visuals result in slow and protracted? Because Roy Thomas didn't have much trouble on that part. Indeed, the very phrase "a picture says a thousand words" kind of indicates that the prose could easily be rendered as pictures. Which was kind of what Howard was doing anyway.
"I elected to use captions sparingly and tried whenever possible to let the narrative be visually driven," Jones continued. "At the beginning of 'Skulls,' for instance, there's a scene on a desolate, brooding moor where a young lad has just warned Kane he's walking toward his possible death on the lonely grasslands. Howard describes this in about a sentence because he's that good with words. I chose to do it in a series of four across-the-page panels with Kane in the immediate foreground moving toward us as he walks away from the pleading lad. The boy is shown growing gradually smaller as he recedes behind Kane, becoming ever more isolated in the darkness and distance of the background. The idea was to echo visually Kane's inherent solitude and vulnerability on the empty moors. It's a cinematic Kurtzman effect-- placing the visual emphasis on a supporting player while keeping the hero looking like a hero even though he's the one in jeopardy. I also used the boy's correspondingly diminishing word balloons to heighten the tension. This is all 'directing' the artist, of course and Rahsan may have a better idea of his own, which is fine with me."
You notice that Bruce Jones has just explained how some Howard scenes result in "slow and protracted comic scenes," yet in his first example he extends one sentence into four across-the-page panels. How does that compute? Why would you do that? What in Christ, Bruce?
"My approach is probably less one of expanding than embellishing 'footprints' already laid by Howard. I mean, who's going to beat the Pulp Bard? I grew up on his stuff so I may be more intimidated than some by the idea of extrapolating on his work; I wince at the thought of straying too far afield, though I suppose the boundaries have a degree of flexibility," Jones told CBR.
From the man who wrote such "Howardian" works as "Games of Gharn," "A Hitch in Time," "Spider Isle," "Tower of Mitra!" the truly heinous "Life Among the Dead" and the unequaled masterpiece of Sword-and-Sorcery that is "The Colossus of Shem." After all, things like the Cimmerian Olympic Games, a two-hundred foot mechanical turtle rampaging through Shem like a chelonian Kaiju, and a blind Cimmerian potter who swears by Mitra in the sleepy Cimmerian village of Solvanthia are just "embellishing 'footprints' already laid by Howard. If this is indicative of him "not straying too far afield," I'd hate to see what his idea of deviating would be.
"I don't know. I always wonder what older writers would think of later young Turks carrying on with their work unharnessed as it were. Lovecraft, of course, encouraged the continuation of his mythos, but then they were never strictly character-oriented. In any case, Howard was a well-read man, a manic researcher and wonderful stylist--simply the best at what he did. The tales wouldn't hold up today had he not been. And all before the age of 30. Humbling, huh."
That much is true, Bruce.
Jones, though, is no stranger to working to with Robert E. Howard's legendary characters.
And yet he's made such an amazing job of implying otherwise, what with his stories having little to nothing to do with Howard.
"This is my first chance to work with Solomon Kane, having done Conan, Kull and Red Sonja for Marvel. I was offered this at Dark Horse by the current series editor, Philip Simon."
So, it's Simon's fault. Simon, are you dense? You invited the horror into the house! You fool, Simon, you fool!
"We've been meaning to get together on something for some time besides my penning Forwards to other works and this was an ideal chance," Jones said. "If you give him his head, Howard transcends mediums wonderfully. The 'Thriller' TV adaptation of 'Pigeons from Hell' still stands, for me, as the all time best example of a broadcast horror anthology piece—which is saying a lot for a guy who loved the original 'Outer Limits.'"
See, this is the conundrum with Jones: he hits all the right notes in every place except his work. He gets that Howard was great, and that nobody could improve on them. So why do his pastiches always end up so bad?
Of course, Solomon Kane is cut from different cloth than the other Howard heroes Jones has written. "I think Kane is distinct from Howard's other characters in almost every way," the writer said. "We may think of Conan as a high-spirited freebooter, but Kane was both a wanderer and seeker of the soul, both his Maker and his inner-self. When things got tight, for instance, Conan tended to cut to the chase with the point of his blade--I don't think he paused long in self-reflection. Kane's approach was often more analytical, at least when allowed. He was constantly surprised by the human condition even while judging it. I think of him as a religious paranoid. A good man in search of Meaning as much as adventure; driven as compared to restless, I guess."
Bruce, of course, he falls into the Gordian Knot trap so many do. If Conan did, in fact, just cut to the chase in "Queen of the Black Coast," he would've just killed the police who arrested him. Instead, he gave the law due process, even attended trial, and only resorted to swordplay when it was obvious there was no other solution. So too in "The Tower of the Elephant," where he only draws his sword after the Kothian lout draws his. Heck, I'd actually say Kane was more impulsive than Conan in drawing his sword! Analytical? Solomon Kane?
As to what might underlie the somber Puritan's mission and what ultimately makes him tick, Jones said, "I think the same thing that makes most of us tick: the incidents and environments surrounding our formative years. Unfortunately, Howard didn't leave us a lot of information about that period of Kane's life. Someday, someone's going to have to do something about that…"
Whoa. That last sentence was ominous.
Still, there's a possibility that this could end up better than any of the Bruce Jones stories we've seen before, because unlike the likes of "The Plague of Forlek" and "Deathmark," this will be an actual Robert E. Howard adaptation. Who knows, maybe when faced with the actual text, Jones could produce something halfway decent. I'm not aware of Bruce attempting any Howard adaptations before this, but despite every bone in my body protesting noisily, I'm going to wait and see what he does with "Skulls in the Stars."
So, what've we learned? Dark Horse are continuing their journey with REH's characters, expanding to include some of those not in the popular consciousness. I have reservations with the new Kull, am very much looking forward to Savage Sword, and am absolutely terrified by the prospect of Bruce Jones' Skulls in the Stars. It's... crazy.
It'll be an interesting year, to say the least.