A Little El Borak Q & A with Mark Finn

Mark Finn has taken some time out from his busy schedule to let me ask him a few questions about the new El Borak comic story he is working on for Dark Horse Comics’ Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword. Over the past decade, Mark has been one of those leading the charge to bring a new awareness of Howard as an important American author and poet.  He is currently updating and revising his 2006 biography of Howard for publication next year by the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press.

Damon:  Is the book going to be a regular monthly or bi-monthly publication or simply have a limited edition run?

Mark: The plan right now is that it will be, I think, a quarterly. The goal is to get some of the other REH characters that haven’t had comic treatments into view of the fans. So, each issue will be a little anthology of stuff.

Damon: Who is the interior artist? Cover artist?

Mark: I have no idea who the cover artist is, but the guy working on my story is some newcomer named Tim Bradstreet. I’ve seen his stuff. He’s pretty good. Maybe one day he’ll be in the big leagues. (laughs) I mean how cool is that, that I have the guy who did the Del Rey illustrations working on El Borak? I’m pretty stoked. I’ve been a fan of Tim’s for years.

Damon: This is the first effort to get Gordon into a graphic story format.  Are there any challenges you see as far as how the character will look? 

Mark: (sighs) You know, this is one of those things…for me, I absolutely adore what Jim and Ruth (Keegan) did with their El Borak concept piece. If I had had my druthers, I would want that to be the comic book El Borak look. No disrespect to Tim, because, you know, as a fan, I like his work and Thomas Jane, too. But it’s not my call. Those decisions are out of my hands. In my script, I’ve got Gordon tricked out like in the REH stories. And it’s set within the El Borak timeline. Tim uses a lot of Photo-reference, and so, unless something really weird happens, if you liked the illustrations in the Del Rey book, you’ll like his work on the comic.

Damon: Most Howard fans are used to seeing Howard’s more exotic heroes (Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, and Solomon Kane) in graphic form.  Gordon is a straight adventure guy with no sorcerers or monsters menacing him.  Do you foresee any issues with him being accepted by the fans in a comic book?

Mark: I don’t really, because there’s even a little wiggle room, if we allow the Ghuls (and they have said those are fair game). No, that’s the good thing about comics. My friend Bill Williams often says that they have an unlimited special effects budget, so a twentieth century swashbuckler is no problem for that crowd. The fact that he is so straightforward is what makes him a good leading character, I think.

Damon: I understand you are writing an original story for the first issue – can you share any details?

Mark: Well, I don’t want to give anything away, because it’s only 8 pages. But this was my charge: show the readers what makes El Borak such a bad-ass. I can tell you it’s about six and a half pages of El Borak doing what he does best: sword-fighting, shooting, riding, and in general taking care of business. In terms of the later Gordon stories, there’s only a handful to make Canon: the range of what El Borak does and can do is more implied than stated in those stories. So, I tried to do another twist on exactly the kinds of things El Borak would do in the course of his adventures. You know, it’s not El Borak making a bid for tribal warlord, or anything like that. I cleaved very closely to the REH stories. But, since it’s a comic book, too, I dropped in something that could be picked up for later, if necessary. I can tell you that this takes place about six months or so after “Hawks of the Hills.”

Now, just watch. When the book comes out, someone, probably someone we both know, will lambast me on the Conan forums: “El Borak would NEVER do those things, or talk like that!” (Laughs)

Damon: Howard wrote quite a few Gordon yarns.  Are there plans to adapt Howard’s stories?

Mark: Don’t know for sure. I think that, if Dark Horse finds a positive response to a given character from this line, that they will look at a monthly title, or a mini-series, and maybe then there will be an adaptation or two. If any of the fans like what they see, or want to see different stuff, I would encourage them to let Dark Horse know about it.

Damon: Will the book feature Jim & Ruth Keegan’s “Two-Gun Bob” strips?

Mark: Yes! And I really hope that Jim and Ruth can do a larger story with this new book. Not that I don’t want the Two-Gun Bob strips, but it’s time for them to break out a Howard adaptation of their own. You know they can do it. I’d trust them with just about anything.

Damon:  Any word on the Dark Horse’s Steve Costigan project that has been kicking around for a while?

Mark: No firm word. It’s on the list, to be developed, and they know (oh God do they all know) how much I want to do it. Me and John Lucas (who, by the way, is going to be inking the new Roy Thomas Conan book) are ready to roll. It’s just a matter of when.

 Damon: Since this is your first foray into comic writing, anything you’d care to add about this new adventure you are on?

Mark: Well, technically, it’s not. I’ve done comics before, a long, long time ago, in the early 90s. It’s been forever. So, any of those old comics you come across that I did, they are worth zillions of bucks! (laughs) Seriously, though, it’s a separate set of muscles from doing, say, prose or fiction. Comics, for all of their freedom, have a lot more structure to them, and a fairly different set of rules. So, my muscles are a little stiff from inactivity, but once I got my layouts drawn for the script, I was back in the zone. It’s been fun. I’m excited to do more work for Dark Horse in this capacity.

Damon: Thank you for your time, Mark.  I know everyone in Howardom wishes you the best with the new comic and your other projects.  Be sure and keep us posted on the book’s progress.

Mark: Thank you and I will.