Sunday, June 13, 2010


 I have a copy of Conan #1.

Published in October of 1970, almost a year and a half to the day before I was born, it is one of my favorite pieces in my comic collection and while I can attribute this to a  number of things, it is one of the few pieces that gets special credit for the artist whose work graces it.

Surely most of you have noticed by now that I gush about writers, and seldom throw any love in the direction of artists, despite the fact that without them our writers would simply be novelists. Well I'm prepared to break the trend in this case.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the man whose name I'm about to bring up, I would recommend that you familiarize yourself quickly.

He is a legend.

His name, is Barry Windsor-Smith.

 I could fill any number of blogs by focusing solely on the terrific ability to convey a unique and captivating story with original and mesmerizing characters that this man possesses, but I've decided in this blog to simply give you a quick look into his career highlights and then to focus on one series in particular. Barry is well known in North America as the man who handled the original Marvel Comics run of Conan The Barbarian, a title which will never be forgotten. His impact on Marvel didn't end there though, as he was also the man who took the first official run at the secret origin of Wolverine in a serialized tale called 'Weapon X.' If you are one of the people who understand just how awesome an accomplishment that Valiant Comics was in the 90's, Barry was there.  He did unbelievable work breathing life back into characters from the sixties like Doctor Solar, Turok The Dinosaur Hunter and Magnus the Robot Fighter, as well as helping to launch some new characters and series that were equally impressive.

The man's pedigree is beyond reproach and his artwork is distinct, unique, and arguably amongst the best of all time.  I certainly find his style worthy of great praise, and feel like it stands apart from the rest of the industry.

But Barry was more than just an artist, he was a Storyteller.

Which is why we're discussing him here today, as I have dug out and dusted off his 1995 series of oversized comics entitled Storyteller. This series featured a glossy, gorgeous cover o 12.5" x 9" stock and contained three stories being told in serialized format.  It was published by Dark Horse for nine issues, and then canceled despite the tenth issue having been completed. I have copies of all nine of the original issues, and I still enjoy them every time I take them out and read them.

The features inside were:

The Paradoxman - A dark sci-fi story with some very strange twists and turns.

Young Gods - Which feels like an homage to New Gods or Thor, and features brilliant artwork woven into a tale of cosmic proportions.  Letting a man like Barry loose in the realm of Gods is a brilliant idea, because there is nothing he cannot draw and explain rationally as a part of the tale.

The FreeBooters - Which feels like a Conan tale about an aged mercenary who now runs a tavern and lives off of fame.  For those who roleplay in the fashion of D&D (which is crap - you really should play Harnworld) the lead character Axus smacks of the kind of Tavern Owner you would long to encounter.  The story is light and fun, and engaging.

One of my favorite pieces of work from him is a graphic novel from the late nineties called Adastra In Africa, based on one of his characters from Young Gods. I have heard it said that it was originally intended to be an X-Men graphic novel, but the Marvel editors decided that since it wasn't written under their supervision or guidance that they wouldn't publish it. It languished for some time until Windsor-Smith decided to revive it as a stand-alone Young Gods novel about Adastra.  While I cannot confirm the validity of the reason it was never published at Marvel, if the story is true.......

Marvel editors made a big mistake.

In any event, I like to champion things I think get overlooked on here just as much as I like to rant about how terrible Spider-Man is, or how awesome Batman is.  Barry Windsor-Smith is one of those gems of the industry that I think a lot of my friends have no idea about.

Do yourselves a favor and change that.


Nyarlathotep said...

Agreed. One of the best graphic storytellers out there.

If you want to know a bit more about the X-Men/Adastra story it was reported here.

My only criticism of BWS art (and I'd say 90% of comic artists fall into this trap) is he doesn't vary facial features enough. Everyone looks related.

The 4th Man said...

A very astute observation.

I can almost always tell the artist by the facial structure they use. Windsor-Smith, Byrne, Simonson, McDaniel, Sears, Perez, you name it. They all seem to have a distinct facial pattern and they stick to it.

So the book ends up being one big incest fest of clearly related people. I've read Byrne books where I lose track of who's who.