Barry Smith on the road to Windsor

Barry Smith is a rarity in comic book artists. His first work was X-Men # 53 and was very much like many artists who came into comics at that time, a student of Jack Kirby. This issue in and of itself is really remembered because it was Barry Smith's first work , not because of the Blastaar story it contained. He did a few short stories in Marvels' horror comics, Tower of Shadows, Chamber of Darkness, a three issue stint on Daredevil(#50 -52) and then came Kazar and ...Conan.

Barry Smith is a rarity in comic book artists. His first work was X-Men # 53 and was very much like many artists who came into comics at that time, a student of Jack Kirby. This issue in and of itself is really remembered because it was Barry Smith’s first work , not because of the Blastaar story it contained. He did a few short stories in Marvels’ horror comics, Tower of Shadows, Chamber of Darkness, a three issue stint on Daredevil(#50 -52) and then came Kazar and …Conan.

When I say he was a rarity, I mean it was rare to see an artist grow right before your eyes in such a short period of time.

The X-Men was totally a young Barry Smith aping Jack Kirby. The horror books were showing a development of style that was unique and no longer looking like Kirby, and by the 3rd issue of Conan, it was apparent that something special was going on here!

I fell in love with the early run of Conan. Sal Buscema’s inks were doing a nice job on Barrys’ pencils but the covers that he inked himself really shone and was a sign of what was to come!

His run was short lived, with a couple of Gil Kane fill in issues, and a reprint of Frost Giant’s Daughter from Savage Tales #1 and ended at #24 with the first full length Red Sonya. One issue was even reproduced directly from his pencils because he was notoriously slow.

Big John Buscema took over Conan and made it his own, but there was something about Barry Smith’s Conan that was, well, a rarity. He didn’t look anything like Robert E Howards description of him, that was where Big John came in, but the Cimmerian as done by Smith was always engaging.

conansaga2222When Marvel relaunched Savage Tales with issue number 2 it featured an incredible adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Red Nails. Or the first part of it. It concluded in Savage Tale # 3. If you have never seen this story it is available in several formats. The Conan Special Edition #1 was a reprinting in a square bound colour format that can be found quite easily and it guides at $4.00 for a 9.2. It also has just become available in the Original Art Archives Edition. A little more on that later.

Red Nails to me has always been one of my favorites. As a struggling artist , the image of Conan driving the spear through the mouth of the Dragon after dipping the point into the Apples of Derketa is permanently seared in my memory.(Anyone else out there?) What an incredibly designed image.

Barry developed so quickly, his style changed so dramatically every issue he worked on. Many times you will hear an artist say that as they grew as artists they began to use less detail to tell the story. Certainly not in all cases but certainly a good number. Joe Kubert, Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli and Jack Kirby come to mind. This certainly was true of the second part of Red Nails but I don’t know if that was the dreaded deadline doom or his artistic desire.

By far the best version for me is the B&W Original Art Archives Edition! It retails at approx. $190 but the high resolution scans of the original artwork are a thing to behold.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great adaptation of this story by Roy Thomas. What is really interesting about the adaptation is that Roy doesn’t just lift the dialogue from Robert E. Howard original prose but he truly does adapt it to the sequential art format. This collaboration is one of the best I have ever read.

If you have never read Conan in the original Robert E. Howard stories, I highly recommend it . There are really inexpesive collections usually on sale at you favorite book sellers at almost any day of the week. I picked up mine for under $10 on one of the display tables in one of my favorite booksellers a few years ago and it’s funny because whenever I read them,the stories in my minds eye reflect the comic adaptation done by the creative teams that did the Marvel Comic adaptations.

That is a pretty good testament to the work done by the likes John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala, Tony Dezuniga and of course Barry Windsor-Smith!

Not quite sure why he changed his name to Windsor-Smith but it certainly has been an excellent journey.

BWS Conan

A couple of years ago I was fortunate to be able to pick up the original artwork of Conan Saga #2.These are the preliminary blue line pencils of the cover. I couldn’t resist taking a scan of it and inking it!

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Dennis De Pues
Dennis is an admitted "Son of the Silver Age", having grown up with the influences of Silver Age greats: Kirby, Colan, Romita and Buscema.Three decades later, he is the creator of Crash!! and Galloway Park. More is definitely on the way.
Articles: 260

5 Comments

  1. Hey Dennis thanks for writing about Barry-Windsor Smith. You are spot on in terms of watching his work as an artist grow right before our eyes. I always loved his Conan work and wish there had been more of it. Also liked his later work on the Machine Man mini-series.These artist profiles you are doing are great, as they come from both an artist and comic collecter perspective. I learn something new every week.

  2. Thanks Mike, always nice to hear that someone likes it!I agree on the Machine Man work.Anything he lends his talent to always is exquisitely rendered.He is without a doubt a truly unique talent in the industry.Weapon X was great!The X-men issues were great.All his more recent Indy stuff has been solid as well.I am sure there are a lot of arcs and runs I need to pick up and enjoy by the talented BWS.

  3. I remember when Conrad & Gould had their day in the sun. I certainly didn’t expect it to end as quickly as it did – I thought art prints were the next wave & were here to stay. I had Bob as a teacher one summer art class – nice soft spoken guy as I remember it.
    Neither of them were quite the storyteller that Barry was though.

  4. It is so often forgotten it seems, that that is exactly the job of the artist. To be a storyteller. Much of the art , though certainly not all, of the art nowadays , is all about the flash but the heck with the storytelling. It took me a long time ,and mostly due to trying to tell stories myself ,that there is a big difference between pretty pin up pages and actually enhancing the words that are on the page to expand the story itself and “tell” some of the story the words actually leave out. BWS has the ability to do both at the expense of neither.

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