Thursday, 20 May 2010
BOOKS: THE BARRY WINDSOR-SMITH CONAN ARCHIVES VOL.1
An Amazon 4-star review.
Title: Curse You, Barry Windsor-Smith
If it wasn't for him I'd probably be many thousands of pounds better off.
It's late 1971 or maybe early 1972, I've been out college for a couple of years and it's at least seven years since I picked up a comic. I've started a local Science Fiction fan group which is just getting established and the last thing on my mind is comics. Then one of my friends who, unlike me, didn't grow out of comics by or before the end of his adolescence,keeps thrusting the Marvel comic version of Conan The Barbarian. Now I was already familiar with Conan and had several copies of those lovely Lancer paperbacks with the brilliant Frank Frazetta covers. So I grudgingly had a look at the comics. And they were a lot better than I expected, so much so that I bought the next issue which came out.
An Amazon 4-star review.
Big mistake. Forty years later I'm still buying comics. Well, maybe not the physical entity which is a comic book but definitely graphic novels, or 'graphic stories' as I prefer to call them. After Conan, I began picking up the odd Marvel title which caught my interest and before long I was buying the entire month's titles which were distributed in the UK and could be found in my town centre market. These were the days when they were shipped as ballast and cost about 12p. Most, with hindsight, weren't very good but there were odd exceptions like the Wein-Wrightson Swamp Thing and the Byrne-Claremont X-Men and before long it was the 80's when comics exploded as an art form.
And here I am, forty years on with the original comics having been sold years ago along with the rest of my collection because I needed the cash to get married, buying an expensive (well, moderately expensive) hardback collection of the first 11 issues, recoloured and on glossy paper. So, is this just a nostalgia trip or do they have some merit still?
To which the answer is yes. Before Conan, Barry Smith, as he was then, was just a jobbing English comic artist with a few Marvel titles under his belt. Competent but nothing special and clearly influenced by Jack Kirby and, I think, Steve Ditko. Because Stan Lee didn't want to fork out top artist money for the title by getting John Buscema (then Marvel's top artist) to draw it, Lee and Thomas agreed on Smith. The first few issues were okay artistically but nothing special, though Thomas did have a reasonable feel for sword and sorcery. But with the third issue published, though the 5th that Smith actually drew, you can see signs of s significant improvement with a growing attention to detail and a sharper line as Smith is clearly refining his style. In this volume it isn't there yet, which is why I've only given it 4 stars. Volume 2 is currently on its way to me and it's in that one that Smith (memory tells me) really explodes and I'll be reviewing it soon.
Anyone wanting to read Conan comics will probably find that the comics currently available by other hands have more explicit gore and sex, but really they're just sitting on the backs of Thomas and Windsor-Smith. This was the first and, as far as I'm concerned is a precursor to the modern age of comics which began towards the end of the 1970's. For anyone wanting a definitive or reasonably comprehensive collection of graphic novels and stories, this is essential. It's also a lot of fun.