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Monday, March 27, 2006

Barry Windsor-Smith: Man of Action

A while back on Of Course, Yeah!, Spencer Carnage requested that the internet comics community set aside these next few days to pay homage to one of the greats with Barry Windsor-Smith Appreciation Week.

I'm more than happy to go along with this, as it gives me a chance to go into a nice retrospective on one of the forgotten all-time classics of sequential literature. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you..


Who could forget this classic tale of Storm coming to grips with the loss of her powers, while finding a tender love in the arms of a Cheyenne mystic who had his own losses to deal with: the brave young men he fought beside in the 'Nam.


...Yeah, I'm just screwin' with you. That thing's got Storm, Forge, and the words "A Love Story" right there on the cover, pretty much ensuring that I won't be reading it anytime soon, even if it does feature Bill Mantlo's own ROM: Spaceknight foes, the sinister Dire Wraiths. This is the ISB, brother, and around here, we read comics with punching.

Fortunately, the world of two-fisted action is not exactly a stranger to Barry Windsor-Smith, thanks largely to his long stints as penciller on on Marvel's Conan the Barbarian, a book that over the years has featured more shirtless men stabbing each other than any comic ever published.

His work on that book's incredible, and when I asked Roy Thomas a few weeks back if there were any particular pages that Windsor-Smith had done that stuck out in his memory, he was able to answer with absolutely no hesitation:

The splash page to Red Nails. From the way the image interacts with the logo right down to the chips on Conan's sword, it's a beautiful image, especially when it's been recolored by the fine folks over at Dark Horse for their trades. And what's more, it may be one of the defininitve images of everyone's favorite Barbarian, and for good reason: With one picture, Barry Windsor-Smith tells you everything you need to know about Conan:

He is tough. He does not like to wear shirts. And he is probably going to stab you. Maybe with two different weapons.

Beautiful though it may be, however, it's not my favorite piece of Barry Windsor-Smith art. No, that honor belongs to a panel from the Conan the Barbarian #19, in a story called "Hawks From the Sea."

Interestingly enough, Windsor-Smith had just recently returned to the book after a stint by Gil Kane, who--not to dis Barry--had really raised the bar for Conan. There's one incredible page that rivals the one above for sheer awesomeness where Conan stands on a pile of bodies aboard a viking longship, swinging a mace and a sword while a storm rages in the background, all capped off by this great opening caption that ends with: "And towering over all: CONAN!"

If that doesn't get you excited about some Hyborian Age ass-kicking, nothing will, but that's a topic for Gil Kane week. Anyway, after an unexpectedly short two-issue run as regular artist, Kane was out and Windsor-Smith was back in, and in the very next issue, he proceeds to blow your mind.

That is the single hardest hit I have ever seen in a comic book, bar none. Conan is hitting that man so hard his head explodes.

And that's how Barry Windsor-Smith rolls.


Conan utilizes his dreaded "Million Dollar Dream" sleeper hold to subdue a giant monkey. Beat THAT, Kull!


Anonymous Dave Thinks said...

Huh. I don't own a lot of actual, single-issue comic books; I tend to get my stories several years late in trade-paperback (aside from my nearly complete run of Heckler.) But I am pretty sure that, for no reason that I know of, I have a copy of Lifedeath in my attic somewhere.

I don't remember too much, except I recall Forge takes apart his leg to build a magic gun to give Storm her powers back. I don't know if anybody gets punched or not - possibly Storm punches Forge. I would.

The invisible apartment building stands out in my memory, too.

3/28/2006 7:59 AM

Blogger CalvinPitt said...

What that image tells me is that Conan and Sgt. Rock need to hang out a lot more. They could have guest appearences where they help the other guy beat Nazis or barbarians to death with various implements.

Not that either one needs the help of course.

3/28/2006 9:41 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused by this image. From the shape of dude's junk it looks like he's facing towards the mighty Cimmerian. But from the position of the thumb, that's his left hand, suggesting that Conan is cold cocking him from behind. Now, don't get me wrong. The Conan I love is more than capable of wrecking some guy from behind with a mace, but it does seems a little less manly than the Rock of Easy Company getting down-ammo belt style. Maybe Conan should settle for teaming up with the Viking Commando to slay some Nazis and then afterwards cutting him in twain with his own battleaxe before drinking some mead and wenching.

3/28/2006 12:47 PM

Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

You have shamed me with my lack of follow through, but damn can that Conan hit something fierce.

3/28/2006 2:29 PM

Blogger Mark said...

Yeah, but those couple of issues Gil Kane did were some of the best damn comics the guy ever drew.

And did Gil Kane ever whine on about his alien abduction? No he did not.

3/28/2006 6:03 PM


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