ComicMix Exclusive Interview: Joe Lansdale on ‘Pigeons from Hell’
Joe Lansdale is a prolific author of horror stories, both short and novel-length, including Drive In and Bubba Ho-Tep. He’s also no stranger to comics, having partnered with Timothy Truman for projects featuring such characters as Jonah Hex and The Lone Ranger, and has even written for Batman: The Animated Series and other television series.
This spring, Dark Horse Comics is releasing his four-part miniseries, Pigeons from Hell, adapting a story by Robert E. Howard. It’s Lansdale’s first time working with artist Nathan Fox, and he recently sat down for a brief chat with ComicMix and a preview of the first issue.
COMICMIX: Thanks for agreeing to chat, Joe. This is not your first work with Robert E. Howard. You previously wrote a Conan miniseries. So tell me, what is it about Howard that you like?
JOE LANSDALE: Howard has always appealed to me because there is a raw storytelling talent at work, and he has a
CMix: Did you ask to write Pigeons from Hell, or was it an assignment?
JL: I think it was mentioned to me by the film company that has Howard’s work, because I had written the Conan miniseries. It had been well-received, and I mentioned Pigeons From Hell, and it was thought an update might be fun, since Dark Horse had already done a literal adaptation, so, it just sort of snowballed from there and Dark Horse was for it. [It was] kind of an accident.
CMix: How did you approach expanding and adapting a prose work into a four-issue miniseries?
JL: I tried to use the original story as the frame, and I tried to bring younger contemporary characters into it. Howard’s work was of its time, and it could be casually racist, so I wanted to avoid that. I also added more mystical elements. Again, a perfect adaptation had already been done for the comics before, and there was a really good Thriller episode of the story years ago, though now it seems a little dated, so I wanted to approach it in a different manner. I think the story is still true to the original in most ways.
CMix: What is it about Howard’s work that you think still makes it relevant today?
JL: I think it’s the pure storytelling. You can learn to be a better writer with effort and time, but that is something that seems almost inborn, though I’m not sure how to explain it. But he has it, and the work is recyclable and constant.
CMix: Are there other Howard stories or characters you’d like to work with?
JL: Yes, and I’m in discussion with Dark Horse on this.
CMix: Nathan Fox has not worked with you before. What do you think of his work on the miniseries?
JL: I love his work on the series. I adore it. He’s been a dream to work with.
CMix: You’ve written for DC, Vertigo, Mojo Press and Dark Horse. Do you see much difference, publisher to publisher?
JL: I’ve also written for Marvel, Boom!, Topps and my work has been adapted to some extent by Avatar. The big companies are similar, but I really like Dark Horse because they are doing such unique things, and such a variety. I’ve always been partial to DC because I grew up on their comics, and Marvel, as well as others, but DC always appealed to me deeply. I wrote some Batman short stories, a novel and a children’s book for them, some episodes of Batman: The Animated series, worked some on a Superman: The Animated Series episode, wrote a number of short comics for them. Bottom line is, I love comics. I learned to read from comics. I enjoy doing them, and like working in the medium.
CMix: Your Conan miniseries reteamed you with Tim Truman. What do you like about collaborating with him?
JL: Tim and I work very well and naturally together. We’re like brothers. He plays off my work, and I know what his art looks like, so I subconsciously choose images I think he would enjoy drawing.
CMix: You’re no stranger to toiling in other people’s universes. What’s the appeal?
JL: Actually, the appeal for me isn’t that strong, but now and then, when it’s a universe I admire, I like the idea. I think Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs created franchises that were meant to be interpreted, but not all writers are that way, and not all writers should have that sort of approach. Not that I’m against it, I just think it works better with some, but the bottom line is the originals are the originals and are always the best.
When you do work in the universe, I think you should bring something of yourself to them. I find it insulting to slavishly follow what has gone before, because no one can match what they did originally, and so therefore you should try and go for a feeling of nostalgia, but some of yourself needs to go into the work. Again, though, it’s not where I want to spend my career, but now and then its fun to work with a classic hero.
CMix: While you’ve written Batman and the Lone Ranger, you’re largely known for your original horror works such as the Drive In series. What’s the appeal of the genre?
JL: I love horror and fantasy and science-fiction because I grew up on it. They were the kind of stories that widened my imagination and took me out of what might have been a pretty dull world for someone with my interest. I could operate in the real world well enough, but this sure made it more fascinating when I was young. I read all manner of things, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O’Conner, Mark Twain, on and on. They are all influences. My novels have been a pretty wide range, and most of them aren’t fantasy or horror or SF. But I love it all, and I really adore comics.
CMix: You’ve also written short works and novels, is there a preference?
JL: I prefer short stories, which I think are my best work, because I can work with so many different ideas, characters and approaches.
CMix: Similarly, you’ve written prose, comics and animation. What are the pros and cons of the formats?
JL: Prose is always more satisfying to me as a writer, but each has its own concerns. Comics have page limits, films have time limits, novels less so. I also feel you can do more with prose than any other medium.
CMix: Is there a character you’ve always wanted to tackle but haven’t had the chance?
JL: Green Hornet, maybe.
CMix: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, Joe.
Pigeons From Hell, featuring writer Joe Lansdale and artist Nathan Fox, hits shelves April 16 from Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse has provided ComicMix with the following preview of the first three pages of Pigeons From Hell #1: