Saturday, September 17, 2011

Albino Gnome



The Chronicles of Conan Volume 3: The Monster of the Monoliths and Other Stories, written by Roy Thomas, Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorn, illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith, Gil Kane and others (1971-72; collected 2006): It took awhile for Marvel's comic-book Conan the Barbarian to gain sales traction, but once it did it ran for about 30 years in both colour and black-and-white magazines. For fans, the high point of the series came early, when long-time writer Roy Thomas was teamed with up-and-coming artist Barry Windsor-Smith for the first twenty issues or so of the colour comic.

Windsor-Smith's art became increasingly refined, complex and painterly as the series went on, evidenced in part here by the decision to try printing one issue directly from his pencils (it doesn't work that well here reproduced and remastered in a high-quality format, so I shudder to think what it looked like on pulp newsprint).

Thomas was (and is) an almost self-parodically verbose writer, and it becomes quite trying here after awhile, though this was admittedly also Marvel's house writing style at the time. Which is to say, every damn panel has to have dialogue or captions in it. When your book is about a taciturn barbarian, this seems especially annoying.

Included here is the two-part cross-universal team-up between Conan and Michael Moorcock's anti-Conan sword-and-sorcery character, Elric of Melnibone. The Windsor-Smith art achieves some startling effects in this story, especially in a battle between two god-like beings, though it suffers somewhat from Windsor-Smith's misunderstanding of what Elric's headgear was supposed to look like. As is, Elric ends up wearing a hat that seems to have been borrowed from a garden gnome. How does Conan keep from laughing?

Other artistic high points occur throughout this reprint collection, including a two-parter illustrated by Gil Kane. The writing can be a really heavy, purple slog at points, but the art makes this worth picking up. Recommended.

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