Illustrator & comic writer/artist Timothy Truman talks about his art, Grateful Dead, Santana and Blues

"Music often influences the mood or "feel" of the piece that I'm drawing."

Timothy Truman: The soundtrack of Image

Timothy Truman is an American writer, artist and musician. He is best known for his stories and Wild West-style comic book art, and in particular, for his work on Grimjack, Scout, and the reinvention of Jonah Hex, with Joe R. Lansdale. Truman is currently writing Conan. Timothy attended the Columbus College of Art and Design while also attending West Virginia University. From 1979 to 1981 he attended The Kubert School in New Jersey and graduated on the Dean's List. 

Truman has been continuously creative for more than 20 years, displaying his pulp sensitivities in his writing. In 1985, he created Scout, which was followed by Scout: War Shaman, a futuristic western. With author Joe R. Lansdale, he reinterpreted Jonah Hex as a horror western. In it, their creation of villain Edgar Autumn elicited a complaint from musician Edgar Winter. A longtime fan and musician, Truman has also been able to integrate his love of music into his love of comics and illustration. While working for Eclipse comics, Truman included a Flexi disc recording inside Scout #19 that provided a soundtrack to one of the scenes in the comic. He also released an album through Eclipse Records with his band The Dixie Pistols entitled Marauder. 

While writing the biography of one of his favorite guitarists, Carlos Santana, for Rock-It Comics, Truman found out that the musician had been a longtime fan of his comic, Scout whose main character, Emanuel Santanna, is the namesake of the famous guitarist. Truman has also had a long relationship with the band the Grateful Dead creating artwork for CD covers, tour posters, limited-edition T-shirts and a color comics page in each issue of the Grateful Dead Almanac.

Truman built a recording studio in his home and while producing recording sessions for Cherokee singer/songwriter Terry Strongheart, they decided to form a new band with some of Truman's friends and Strongheart's daughter called the Terry Strongheart Band.

Interview by Michael Limnios

All Artworks / Posters © by Timothy Truman

When was your first desire to become involved in comic art?

Since my early childhood. I always loved to write and draw. No one in my family remembers when I first picked up a pencil. I fell in love with comics through my cousins' comic book collections, when I was 4 or 5 years old.

What does "ART" means to you?

For me, it's the act of creating images, words or music which reveal something about the artist.

"Music often influences the mood or "feel" of the piece that I'm drawing"

What do you learn about yourself from your art (visual, music etc.) and what has it offered you?

It's become a way for me to look at things differently-- the world, people, my own interests, relationships, tings that I'm interested in. With art,  it's like holding one of these things in your hands and turning it over to look at it at every angle, then opening it up to look inside.

What is the relation between music and image?

For me, music is often the "movie soundtrack" for the image. Sometimes when I'm drawing I often imagine a song playing, as though whatever I'm drawing was actually an image on film and the song was playing in the background. Thus, music often influences the mood or "feel" of the piece that I'm drawing. 

How important was the music in your life?

Extremely important. When I was younger, I was torn between whether to make a living as an artist or a musician. Often I still have the desire to do more music than I have the time to do. My collection of music and musical instruments is far larger and more precious to me than my comic book collection, and I have far more interest in musicians than I do artists or writers.   

How does the music affect your mood and inspiration? What are the triggers for the creation?

Sometimes if I'm having trouble with a piece, I'll think of a song or musical passage and it will sort of "wake me up" and get me motivated or give me a fresh idea.  As I said before, songs are often the soundtracks to my artwork.  This is also true when I'm writing stories. For instance, there was a time when I was having trouble with a section of a Conan story. I went outside to take a walk and had my iPod with me. A certain Led Zeppelin acoustic track came on-- I forget what it was, but it was something from Led Zeppelin III-- and for some reason I figured out a way to overcome the story problem. When I was drawing the GrimJack comic book, I used to listen to a lot of Thin Lizzy as well as Miles Davis' Agharta album. The music often seemed to perfectly fit what I was drawing for that book.

"All the underground poster and comics artists used to hang out at the Dead's house or at Janis Joplin's, playing pool and getting stoned with the Dead, Big Brother, and the Jefferson Airplane."

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Family Dog artists with your projects?

The artists for the San Francisco poster scene and underground comics were a huge influence on my work. They were taking "kiddie" subject matter that we grew up with in the 50's and dragging it through the streets into adulthood.

What do you miss most nowadays from 60s psychedelic era and Acid culture of art?

For one thing, 12" inch album covers! What a great platform for art those were-- quite better than creating a painting for a small 5-1/2" inch CD cover. And when the vinyl albums opened into a 24" inch wide panorama, so much the better! I regret that I never really had much of an opportunity to work in that format. As far as comics go, I miss the undergrounds very much. It's another regret of mine, that I was too young to get involved in that scene. The closest I've gotten to it are the cartoons that I do for Grateful Dead Almanac.

What are your hopes and fears on the future of Art and Music?

The digital era has been both a blessing and a curse. Music and art that we've always wanted can often be found online. The digital era has freed musicians and artists from the headaches of working with big companies. However, in other cases that availability has made it harder for artists and musicians to get paid for new work that they create, when people are sharing the work online.

What made you get involved with Grateful Dead’s artwork?

I started doing work with them in the early 1990's through the Grateful Dead Comix, published by Kitchen Sink Publishing. I saw an article about Kitchen Sink's plans to do  Grateful Dead Comix and made a phone call to an editor there. He said he'd called me back the next day to tell me where to send my portfolio to the Grateful Dead. However, the editor ended up calling me back about 10 minutes later. "No need to send your portfolio, Tim. Jerry Garcia already knows your work." I found out that Garcia was a comics fan who'd been following my work for years. That was pretty cool!

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Bob Weir, Robert Hunter and Carlos Santana?

However, I met Weir and he is a great guy. Very unassuming, gentle and bashful. We started talking about guitars, though, and we yakked up a storm. Hunter is a fantastic guy-- also very unassuming. He's really great to be around. One of my favorite memories is of visiting his house in 1996. He let me play a beautiful Martin guitar that he owns. It's the same guitar that Dave Mason is seen with on the inside cover of the album "It's Like You Never Left". With Santana, my favorite memory is being onstage with the band at Wolf Trap here in the U.S.. During the sound check, Raul Rekow, the conga player, came and grabbed me by the arm and led me to the congas. Carlos and the band were jamming on the old blues song "I'm a Man". Carlos was standing about 4 feet in front of me, wailing away on lead guitar! The funny thing is, I'd had a dream about it the year before!  That's the way things often go with Carlos. Weird things can happen.  

Why did you think that Grateful Dead music continues to generate such a devoted following?

The melding of the music and the lyrics are timeless. Also, strangely enough, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that for years, they allowed tapers to record their concerts and share the recordings. The practice did a lot for keeping their music in circulation, and for turning new people on to it.

"My collection of music and musical instruments is far larger and more precious to me than my comic book collection, and I have far more interest in musicians than I do artists or writers."   

Why Deadhead's artwork is connected to underground culture & what characterize the philosophy of?

The Grateful Dead was always very supportive of artists-- perhaps partially because Garcia's interest in comics. All the underground poster and comics artists used to hang out at the Dead's house or at Janis Joplin's, playing pool and getting stoned with the Dead, Big Brother, and the Jefferson Airplane.

Which memory from Grateful Dead and Hot Tuna makes you smile?

For the Dead, sitting in a car with my guitar on our farm in rural West Virginia when I was in high school, listening to the "Skull and Roses" live album on 8-track tape, trying to figure out Garcia's lead guitar passages. With Hot Tuna, lying on my bed in my room on the same farm in West Virginia, looking at the inside cover for their second album, "First Pull Up, then Pull Down", and the back cover of the "Burgers" album. I wanted to BE THERE!

How did the idea of ELECTRIFIED: HEROES OF THE ELECTRIC BLUES come about?

A friend of mine, Larry Shell, who published the cards, asked me to do them. R. Crumb had done a set of acoustic blues cards and Larry often wondered why no one had done a similar set for electric blues players. So we did it.

"Sometimes when I'm drawing I often imagine a song playing, as though whatever I'm drawing was actually an image on film and the song was playing in the background." 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

Because so many other forms are rooted in the blues-- that three-chord, 12-bar structure. Also, the structure is easy for musicians to "jam" on.  If you know anything about music, you can join right in.

What made you laugh lately and what touched (emotion) you?

My wife Beth makes me laugh. We have a good time together. She is my angel.

What from your memorabilia and things (books, records, photos etc.) you would put in a "capsule on time"?

My ticket stub from a Rory Gallagher concert that I saw at the Bottom Line in New York City in 1979; My bottleneck slide that David Lindley signed for me a few years ago.

Which meetings and acquaintances of musicians and artists have been the biggest experiences for you?

Meeting Rory Gallagher at the Bottom Line in '79; Meeting Carlos Santana and interviewing him extensively in the 1990's; Becoming pals with guitar player Bill Kirchen, who is one of the nicest guys on the planet; Meeting Jackson Browne a few years ago (He's one of the warmest, nicest people I've ever met); And becoming friends with Robert Hunter.

What are some of the most memorable drawing and paintings you've had?

My favorite covers are the ones I did for Jim Lauderdale's "Headed for the Hills" CD and the Grateful Dead's "Live at the Cow Palace" and "Mother Mcrea's Jug Band" CDs. I also did some T-shirt for the Dead in the 1990's that I'm really proud of. 

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the art and music?

From studying the work of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan.

How you would spend a day with Conan?

It would probably involve a few jugs of wine.

What would you say to Duane?

Why didn't you put on a god damn helmet, man!? I'd also ask him where he set his volume and tone controls on his amp when he was playing at the Fillmore East.

What would you like to ask Zappa?

I don't think I ever would have been able to even open my mouth around Zappa. I'd have been too afraid of saying something incredibly stupid! 

Timothy Truman - official website

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