Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Definitive Conan!

Barry Windsor-Smith, the most important Conan artist aside from Frank Frazetta, says the cover image above for the debut issue of Conan Saga is his "definitive" rendition of the character. To get a much better look at this lush piece of artwork check out this link. Smith also discusses each of the covers in this brief return to the character who he helped popularize (and who likewise helped popularize Smith in return). He talks about each cover, save for the seventh issue which he considers to weak to represent. I don't agree with that assessment. It's interesting reading. Go here to begin.

Here are the covers in question.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Coming Of Conan!

The intoxicating cover by Barry (Not-Yet-Windsor)Smith and the late John Verpoorten for Conan the Barbarian #1 has been featured here a few times. I love how Smith approached this project with gusto and panache. He's unafraid to throw all his youthful vigor into an image which, while it might lack grace in some places, is not shortchanged in action or drama. In a wonderful variation of the classic Frazetta pose which decorated the first Lancer Conan paperback, this image of Conan is active, but nonetheless stands astride a beautiful woman who lingers around his knees. The action around him is furious and chaotic. This scene might in fact be a moment before the classic sedate and ominous Frazetta image.

The closest we'll likely get to seeing Barry Smith's original artwork is this cover for Marvelmania Magazine minus the Verpoorten inks. Here there is a  a raw energy to the black and white presentation which is seen in full.

The classic cover has been reprinted dozens of times by Marvel and other publishers around the world. Here are some I have been lucky enough to gather up from across the globe. 

Here's a painting which uses Smith's art as its inspriation.

And here is a recent homage by John Romita Jr. for a cover of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. It has some of the vigor of the original, but misses its charm somehow.

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Monday, April 21, 2014


It's just barely possible I saw Journey to the Far Side of the Sun in the theater in 1969. I have some nagging memory of that, but no certainty. I've long wanted to get another look at, especially in light of rediscovering so many great Gerry Anderson productions such as UFO, Space:1999 and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. I recently added Thunderbirds to my collection, but more on that another day.

This movie was called Doppleganger in Europe, a name which has a proper mystery to it and of course points quickly the theme of the flick which features many of the classic Anderson touches. After years of puppets on television the Andersons wanted to break into live action and especially into film. They certainly the technical chops for it, but as this movie demonstrates, there's a lack of thematic depth which holds the work back.

The story is a simple enough affair. A new planet is discovered on the far side of the Sun in 2069 and Eurosec director Jason Webb (Patrick Wymark) wants to send men there, but it costs a lot of money. To fool the U.S. into being the sugar daddy for the operation, Webb allows the secret discovery to fall into the hands of the Soviets. This triggers a team up between Europe (Britain really) and the U.S. with Roy Thinnes showing up as ace astronaut Colonel Glenn Ross. Along with Ian Hendry in the role of Dr.John Kane, the two train then eventually head to the new planet. Crashing upon a arrival they discover that the world they have arrived at seems almost like the one they left.

This movie is a wonderfully quiet and technically sound presentation of space flight. The characters are by and large restrained with just enough personal intrigue to tell them apart. The movie seems to want to tap into the 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe with some psychedelic sequences and an ending which really does evoke the classic Kubrick space opera. The biggest problem with this movie is that the payoff doesn't really measure up to the build up. The discovery is curious, but doesn't seem to sufficiently challenge the protagonists enough to make me really care about their fates. It's all a bit too low key all the time.

This is a beautifully fabricated movie, but it sadly lacks enough of a point to make it elevate to a really rich viewing experience. If I actually did see this movie when it came out, I'm realizing why it left such a vague memory.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Government Issue!

Government Issue: Comics for the People, 1940's-2000's is an adorable volume from Abrams Comicart which showcases decades of comics used for safety advice, military propaganda, civil defense information, drug abuse dramatizations, and many other uses. Written and compiled by Richard L. Graham and featuring a forward by Sid Jacobson, former Harvey editor and who along with Ernie Colon has produced some of the best nonfiction comics of the last decade, this volume tries to be comprehensive.

The only knock is that I'd have loved to have had more full comics, but space as always with these kinds of collections is a premium. From benign comics like one about fighting fires starring Smokey the Bear to infamous tomes like Milt Caniff's "How to Spot a Jap" to safety tips from the Peanuts gang, this one truly has something for everyone. There's vigorous work by Jack Sparling and some of the earliest comics work ever by Neal Adams. Also on hand are some great King Features characters and even Walt Kelly's Pogo shows up.

For a gander at some of the material contained take a gander at the covers below, some by seasoned and respected professionals in the comic book biz.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014


Alan Davis
I knew absolutely nothing about Marvelman when I stumbled across Warrior magazine back in those halcyon days of the 1980's. The British superhero, a necessary adaptation of the successful Captain Marvel character after the latter was dropped from publication, was a total cipher to me. So that said, I lacked some of the pure joy which fans must've had when he showed up unannounced in the debut issue of Dez Skinn's old black and white magazine.

Garry Leach
Marvelman didn't make the cover until the second issue, but by then it was clear that Alan Moore and Garry Leach were creating something quite different. These days of course the deconstructed superhero is all to common, but then in those pre-Watchmen days it was a downright fresh notion. Here was a superhero who wasn't all that heroic really, not as you'd expect. He had sex for one thing, with his wife sort of admittedly, but sex nonetheless. It was a novel notion in a medium which wiped that aspect of life away save in the most obscure and sometimes titillating ways. Here was a superhero who was violent, truly violent in that he damaged mere human beings and even not-so mere human beings with the snap of his finger. Here was a guy who was Superman made carnate.

Mick Austin
This was rollicking stuff, but soon I lost track of the plot a bit and drifted out of independent comics and onto other matters. Over the years I read about the impossible tangle the Marvelman / Miracleman franchise had become, and like many fans I had such a high regard for my long-ago-traded-away Warrior magazines that I hoped it would resolve itself. But even then, I was pleasantly surprised how completely effective these stories still are after all this time. The seriousness of the storytelling is evident and compelling. This is significant stuff, not just a quaint superhero adventure, but something with import and resonance.

Mick Austin
Marvel has at long last republished these trapped gems. Like his inspiration "The Big Red Cheese", Marvelman / Miracleman has at long last escaped the limbo of the unpublished and returned to the stands with significant pomp and proper circumstance. Always exceedingly cantankerous in these matters, Alan Moore is merely "The Original Writer", but Garry Leach gets his props as does Alan Davis who quickly too over for Leach when the latter proved too meticulous for the grind of deadlines. Marvel has now published four issues, which reprint Book One of the saga. Most all of these I'd seen before, glimmering in the embers of my imagination. What comes next will be new to me. I look forward to it.

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