Monday, January 17, 2005

Oh no! I haven't written about comics for a while...

...and I've forgotten how to!

How about...
Just got volume three and four of Dark Horse's THE CHRONICLES OF CONAN reprints, which feature the (presumably last reprintable) work of Barry Windsor Smith on the character.

Classic for good reason, in volume three we can see Smith develop from a post-Kirby style, to one as much influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as any comicbook artist. That said, the reason Smith had to inevitably move on is also painfully clear, as the consistency of his work skydives, as he strives to make his deadlines. As his pencils got later and later, Marvel took awful liberties, shooting from his pencils, or having multiple inkers hacking it out as quickly as possible.
The two issues drawn by Gil Kane in volume three are also great, reminding me of why I held him in such high regard as a kid. When inked by Ralph Reese, the detail in the work is positively Bollandesque, a comparison I'd never have made before.

Just as volume three sandwiches the two Kane issues between Smith's initial farewell to the character and his first reprise, volume four sandwiches John Buscema's debut on the character he would continue to work on for the guts of twenty years (and clearly burnout on), between Smith's last issues and Red Nails, from the magazine SAVAGE TALES. This work proved to be Smith's coda to his earlier work, and simultaneously his definitive take on the barbarian. My only complaint can be that it's a shame to see the work republished on such a small scale, as Marvel's magazines had different dimensions to the standard comicbook page.
Though Buscema's work was bound to look weaker beside such greatness, its powerful stuff too, the work of a man throwing off the shackles of the superhero genre he never really enjoyed. Ironic, as Buscema was the first choice for the Conan job, but Smith was the cheaper option, when Marvel needed to save money to pay for the license from Howard's estate.

These two volumes also feature some great guest stars: with Smith essaying Michael Moorcock's Elric in vol.3, and Red Sonja in vol.4. Smith gets Elric horribly wrong, basing him on the godawful American paperback covers (by Jack Gaughan) which Moorcock famously hated, with a peculiar pointy hat; and his Red Sonja isn't the chainmail bikini clad icon we all know and love from her own series (definitively redesigned/drawn by Frank Thorne), instead wearing a chainmail shirt and groovy Kylie Minogue-lookin' hot pants ensemble, with a formidable she-male jawline.

So cheer up. Even the best don't hit it out of the park every time.