Well, I am officially an old guy. Rascally Roy Thomas otherwise known as Roy (The Boy) Thomas turned 76 on November 22nd.
Not only was Roy Stan Lee’s first successor as Editor-In-Chief of Marvel comics and the carrier of the torch for Marvel Comics through the late Silver Age and then beyond, but he was the reason that Conan the Barbarian was introduced to the comic book world and thereby into the mainstream consciousness.
As a “Son of the Silver Age” I have come to the conclusion that I would be perfectly content if I never read another new comic as long as I have my collection of silver age beauties.
There are however many Bronze Age exceptions to that rule, number one among them being the Savage Sword of Conan black and white magazine.
There is no other run that I go back to for casual reading and artwork ogling than that run. Now not every issue was a winner but I do want to touch upon this title for a moment if I could.
I have always been amazed at the sheer volume of work that Roy Thomas and John Buscema put out in this title alone. It ran for 235 issues, most of that time monthly and adapted basically every Robert E. Howard story and many of the L. Sprague DeCamp stories as well. The vast majority was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Big John Buscema. They created literally thousands of pages of prose and artwork together on this title alone, and that does not include the regular monthly Conan comic as well as thousands more pages on other monthly titles.
When you think about it is is truly mind boggling.
How did Roy read all those Conan novels and adapt them is beyond me, and Buscema’s work, though for the most part breakdowns and not finished pencils, were consistently good with the exception of some of the inkers that he had.
Without a doubt, the top 3 fan favorites were Alfredo Alcala, Tony DeZuniga and Ernie Chan, each who did hundred of pages if not more.
A couple of my favorites were from issue #4 “Iron Shadows in the Moon” inked by Alcala and ” A Witch Shall Be Born” inked by DeZuniga.
These were really, for me anyway, the first time I really became aware of these two artists work and they were totally different styles and both uniquely and quite surprisingly complimented Big John’s pencils.
It can be argued, and certainly was by Big John himself, that both inkers could be quite overpowering on John pencils. No argument there, however they also made both Alcala and DeZuniga better than they ever were on there own. And they were both very capable pencilers, but Big John was in a class all his own when it came to anatomy, storytelling and sheer dynamic energy on the page.
I was never a fan of the Buscema/Chan pairing as I feel Chan was especially overpowering with a heavy line that detracted from Big John’s mastery.
Many varying styles were used by all three artists and I think time restraints played a big part in that as I am sure there must have been a lot of deadline pressures.
The sheer volume of line work that Alcala used in his inking would on occasion be left out and a more traditional spotting of the blacks would be used.Sometimes he would just do the main figure inking and use graphite for shading and texture.
Tony DeZuniga became quite proficient in Zip-A-Tone after about 30 issues or so and looking back on it, he was quite inventive in his use of textures to eliminate brushwork.
And again, for me , especially the longer Ernie Chan inked him, his line became heavier to the point of totally taking the John Buscema feel out of the artwork.
There were also other inkers , from Neal Adams and the Crusty Bunkers to Sonny Trinidad, Dan Adkins, Yong Montano, and many more.
I would very much like to hear the who and why of your favorite inkers as well.
So Happy Birthday Roy; none of the aforementioned art critique would be possible without your attention to detail of the Robert E. Howard stories and the masterful way you adapted them to comic book form!
So the next time you read a Savage Sword Of Conan, or for that matter any of the work Roy Thomas has done in his career, I encourage you to…Marvel at the sheer volume of great work he did and continues to do.
Long Live Roy (the boy ) Thomas…and continued Happy Collecting!
That etching-like quality of Alcala’s inking lent a rather old-fashioned air to Buscema’s work that nobody else could capture. Kind of like looking at an old illustration in an adventure novel from the turn of the last century. That picture you have in your post is a perfect example of this quality. It’s for that reason alone that I loved those Savage Sword compilations so much. Mind you my all-time favourite is Barry Windsor Smith’s rendering of Roy’s adaptation of Red Nails. I think these are books that really gave legitimacy to our previously sneered-upon hobby, lending them a more elevated status in the eyes of the general public. The maturity of Roy’s writing was something that Stan never quite mastered, and his place in comic history is assured. Thanks for this Dennis, as always!
I am also huge fan of Red Nail Mel and will leave my comments on that for another post as there is certainly enough to write about for another full column. Your description of Alcala’s inking having a turn of the century feel is spot on.It always amazes me how much time that work would take to produce.He must have been amazingly fast! Roy’s writing at times blew me away as with his work on the Doctor Strange Gene Colan Silver Age run!
Dennis, personally I always liked the Buscema/Chan artwork. It is so distinctive that I can tell who is drawing/inking a particular issue without checking the credits. DeZuniga’s best work was in Weird Western Tales IMO. I appreciate Roy’s contribution to comics and his continued work with the fanzines like Back Issue and Alter Ego. Happy Birthday Roy!
I was one of those kids that just started reading and collecting comics in 1970, and what drew me to Conan was the fact that unlike the Fantastic Four or any other long running superhero title, Conan was brand new and I could get in on the ground floor..which lasted for me till issue #200, at that point I lost intrest in the series.
I also identified with Roy because he seemed so young compared to the rest of the Bullpen! Are you sure he’s 76? I was thinking 26.
You know Ed , a lot of people liked the Buscema/Chan team up.Initially I also liked the team up early in his regular title after Barry Wndsor Smith left but I just found it becaame overpowering and that was probably as a result of even looser breakdowns by Buscema.
Variety is the spice of life as they say!
I know , I couldn’t believe it either but when he was called Roy the Boy , I was one!
Time certainly does fly bye!( Insert obligatory eye roll by those younger than 30)!
Spot on, Dennis! Roy’s contribution to Doctor Strange, along with Colan’s astounding artwork, redefined the character in ways I could never imagine Lee and Ditko pulling off with such finesse. And the man’s contribution to comic book history, in the shape of all of his great fanzines, amateur and professional, is unparalleled. Defiitiely one deserving of a place of honour in the comic book Hall of Fame. Thanks for the memories!
I always enjoyed his Alter Ego magazine.It’s still going strong.His career could fill these columns for a long ,long time and I am sure that he will be honoured here for a long time to come.
If you’re ever down here in Kitchener-Waterloo lunch is on me. This post, much like Mike Huddleston’s and Ivan Kocmarek’s and Waltor’s, lends so much to the discourse that this medium so richly deserves. I’ve always loved great art, novels, poetry, prose, television, film and live theatre. That magic has largely been conjured too by that wonderful fusion of word and picture we call “comics.” It’s a real pleasure to contribute to our ongoing appreciation of this enlightening and entertaining medium. Let’s raise a glass to all the folks who aren’t afraid to be be branded “nerd” or “geek”, even into their 60s. Comics rock!
Sounds like a great idea Mel. It would be my pleasure.
Your comments are always well thought out and are greatly appreciated!
And Thomas also played a big role in the Bronze revival of the JSA and All Star Comics. For all he gave us, I’m happy he got to revive the comic that most captivated him as a child.
My favorite Roy Thomas quote: “The Golden Age of comic books is seven.”
For me it was ten! That’s my Golden age.
Exactly, Dennis! For me it was 5.
It’s the spirit of the quip, in the context of a discussion among fellow fans about when exactly the Golden Age of comics began, that cuts right to the truth of what it’s all about.
Thanks for celebrating such a deserving creator. He was certainly a major part of my personal Golden Age.
I just ran across a thread that says Roy Thomas is coming back to Conan for Dark Horse with Tom Grinberg on art.I have seen some of his take on Tarzan , and it is really good! I can’t wait to see this as it just may be a return to Conan Greatness!
Here is an image address for Tom Grindberg on Conan.Looks great!
This is a beautiful work of art, a lovely mix of Barry Windsor Smith and John Buscema, with Alcala inks and that remarkable Krenkel-like structure in the background. I’m in. I’m all in.
Great description Mel! Any art that draws praise by being compared to those four artists is high praise indeed.I am looking forward to this!
I toocould live with only mu Conans left to read. For me, in a nod to Roy, when either the mag or the comic were written by others, they were nearly unreadable. Only Roy could walk the line between parody and genre, and was (and still is, thanks to Dark Horse) simply a master of language and style in his own voice.
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