All Pulp sat down with Roy Thomas, writer of the upcoming Tarzan Sunday Strips about the project as well as his legendary comic book career.
AP: Tell us a little about yourself and your pulp and comic book interests.
RT: Loved the comics medium since I discovered them at around age 4 1/2, starting with things like Superman and Batman, but nowadays don’t follow the field at all… I just collect comics from the Golden and Silver Ages, plus a few other things. At age 10 or so I read a few pulps like PLANET STORIES (have already read PLANET COMICS); only pulp I have now are a complete-but-for-one collection of the magazine appearances of Conan, plus the complete Adam Link stories of Eando Binder and a couple of others.
AP: How did you get your start as a comic book writer?
RT: Wrote to letters to comics editors, esp. Julius Schwartz–and one day in early 1965 Mort Weisinger, with whom I’d never exchanged more than one or two letters, offered me a job as editorial assistant on the Superman books. I threw over a foreign relations fellowship and went to work for DC… two weeks later, for Marvel.
AP: With Tarzan’s 100th anniversary in full swing, you’ve landed the writing duties on a new Tarzan Sunday web strip along with artist Tom Grindberg. What can we expect from this new strip?
RT: Beautiful artwork from Tom and our attempt to tell stories which will be true to the classic spirit of Tarzan.
AP: Will the Tarzan strip be an on-going project?
RT: We hope so. We have to be able to make a minimum of money from it after a little while, but mostly we’re doing it for the love of it.
AP: Anything you can tease about the new Tarzan strips?
RT: The story involves the disappearance of Jane, and Tarzan’s involvement with La, who’d like to take her place. Tom had drawn several of the La sequence strips before I came aboard, so I figured we’d find a way to make everything fit as a story. At this writing, we’ve done nine “weeks,” I guess… the equivalent of nine Sunday strips, if they were appearing in newspapers… which they ought to be.
AP: Do you, as a writer, approach doing a web comic such as Tarzan any differently than if you were doing it for a newspaper or comic book?
RT: Yes, you have to write in little bursts… a climax of sorts every few panels. But you quickly get into the rhythm, and I know that whatever I come up with, Tom will draw beautifully. He, as much as Tarzan, is the reason I’m doing this, even though we really hardly know each other. But I’ve always loved his work… and the fact that he isn’t too busy right now with comic book work to even consider such a project is as damning of the present-day field as anything I could think to say about it.
AP: There seem to be many different opinions about what can be defined as pulp. How do you define pulp and what do you look for in a pulp story as a writer and a reader? Do you consider Tarzan a pulp hero?
RT: Sure. Tarzan started in a pulp, albeit a higher-class one than some… and he and ERB almost definite pulp, at least at the high end.
AP: Tarzan is not your first time stepping into the world of pulp. How does working on Tarzan compare and contrast to working on Conan?
RT: We’ll have to see. They’re quite different characters… both men of action, but Tarzan is probably more introspective than Conan. When I did the TARZAN comics for Marvel, I tried too hard to keep ERB’s prose when I was adapting the novel TARZAN, LORD OF THE JUNGLE. You can’t do that as easily or as well as you can with REH and Conan, because ERB doesn’t write purple and/or poetic prose the way Howard does. ERB just tells the story… so I should’ve thrown away most of those captions I wrote for TARZAN, or severely shortened then. I don’t feel the same way about CONAN.
AP: Where do you see the comic book industry in the future?
RT: Online, probably. That’s another reason I’m less interested in it. I can get interested in writing an online strip… because it’s basically the same as writing a strip for newspapers, and I already do that by working with Stan, for over a dozen years now, on the SPIDER-MAN strip… and of course I wrote two years of a CONAN strip 30 years ago. But I’m personally less interested in READING an online strip, because I want to hold the paper in my hands, etc. I hope and trust many other readers nowadays do not feel the same, and we’ll do the best we can to deliver the kind of strip they’d like if they read it once a week in the Sunday papers, surrounded by “Dilbert” and “Classic Peanuts.”
AP: And how can we get the millions of fans that enjoy movies based on comic books to pick up the source material?
RT: If I knew that, I’d be rich. I’m not rich…but I’m comfortable.
AP: Is there a particular character out there you haven’t had the chance to work on that you would love to take a crack at writing?
RT: No characters I haven’t written that I can think of that I’m wild about writing… though I’d like to write AGAIN some of those I wrote before: Conan… the Invaders… All-Star Squadron… Infinity, Inc… Arak, Son of Thunder… Captain Carrot… Jonni Thunder… hey, even Starr the Slayer. Couldn’t do worse than THAT Marvel mini-series of a couple of years ago. It made my skin crawl. Or would have, if I’d bought it and taken it home with me instead of just skimming it at the store and putting it firmly back on the shelf. Still, somebody there was trying to be creative… I just wish they’d done it with (and TO) their own character, and not one I co-created.
AP: Where can readers find information on you and your work?
RT: In general, I can be Googled, like everybody else… but I eschew Facebook and the like, though Tom Grindberg will keep me apprised of what readers say to him on Facebook. They can reach me at email@example.com or write me a letter at the address that’s in every issue of ALTER EGO, my heroic-comics-history magazine.
AP: What upcoming projects do you have coming up that you can tell us about at this time?
RT: No comics besides TARZAN and the ongoing SPIDER-MAN strip I work on with Stan Lee. I have a couple of comics projects, esp. One, that’s near to making a deal on…but it’s hard to find time for it, because I’ve signed a contract to write a biiiggg book about Stan’s life for Taschen, the German company that published that big DC book by Paul Levitz last year. Similar format and size… so it’ll be big and expensive, and is about to start taking up a huge percentage of my time. I’ll be lucky to keep everything else minimally afloat till I finish it, months from now!
AP: Do you have any shows, signings, or conventions coming up where your fans can meet you?
RT: Not till Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC, next June. Well, actually, there’s another big con coming up late this winter… but they’ve asked me not to mention it till they announce it, so… like I said, I’m gonna be busy with this book and my previous commitments.
AP: And finally, what does Roy Thomas do when he’s not writing?
RT: I read (though hard to find time these days)… watch a lot of TV (Netflix and Canadian, mostly) with Dann… and spend time exercising (not rigorously) and playing with our eight dogs, feeding the capybaras, etc., etc. Always something to do when you’ve got a 40-acre spread and a couple of houses… I even have to help clean up the swimming pool, though that season is about over right now.
AP: Thanks, Roy. We’re looking forward to following the new adventures of Tarzan.
You can learn more about Tarzan and the Sunday Strips at www.edgarriceburroughs.com
Also, check out All Pulp’s interview with Tarzan Sunday Strip artist Tom Grindberg at http://allpulp.blogspot.com/2012/08/artist-tom-grindberg-takes-all-pulp-on.html