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Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives Volume 1 Hardcover – Jan 26 2010
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Way back in 1970 Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor Smith (back before the Windsor middle name was used) started working together to really change the face of mainstream comics. Conan the Barbarian was the first of it's kind. Barry gave us art that evolved from one issue to the next and he delivered on visualizing Robert Howard's Age Undreamed of in spades. Roy wrote the tale of a thief, a reaver, a slayer, a man who would become a king by his own hand. If this sounds cliche' it wasn't in 1970. Conan is often described as heroic. Well, he definitely of heroic proportion and effort but he was really just a man and not a superhero in tights. He was a resilient, tough, smart, cunning and determined man. As a barbarian from the untamed north he was a large man among other, smaller men in both size and aspiration. Barry and Roy delivered in a way that's hard to describe, but it's hard to argue that Conan the Barbarian wasn't something new to the mainstream heroic comic genre.
When this book collecting those comic formatted stories was first announced a lot of people were encouraged by the proposal that stated that the original color guides would be used for this volume. Newer readers who discovered Barry Windsor Smith's art for the first time in this contemporary period had mixed but mostly favorable reactions to Dark Horse Comics reprints of the Conan the Barbarian series now collected in trade paperbacks called The Chronicles of Conan. However, for many of us who read the original comics off of the old spin racks the Chronicles were a mixed bag. One annoying reason was due to the lack of the covers being reprinted to go with the tales, but the biggest reservations were for the revised coloring. It ran the gamut from decent to very annoying.
The news of the return to the original color guides was met with great anticipation.
Later, months after the original solicitation was already in print the word was leaked that the original coloring was not going to happen. Technical problems daunting their efforts to bring the public the original color pallet. With that news we oldsters were given another heaping dose of bad news with the comment from someone at Dark Horse that the Chronicle coloring would be the one used for the new Archive edition.
The bad news- it is indeed the the color used for the Chronicles.
The good news- those colors have been tweaked, taken down a notch or three.
The better news- along with colors losing their garishness are the intensified inks making Barry's line work stand out. This is not to say the colors are dim and boring. The colors are actually more effective because the tweaking that was done was actually a change in hue. The reds and yellows were reduced to give us truer greens and blues. Where some line work in the stories "The Wrath of Anu" and "Rogues in the House" were diminished (or, in some small examples, missing) in the Chronicles trades, here they are returned and put Barry's line work back in charge of the design.
The great news- all the covers from the original series have been printed at the start of all the stories and their original colors remain intact as do the actual cover designs from Marvel Comics covers'. The only thing edited out of the covers are the very small Marvel logo (even the comics code seal is still intact).
The end papers are nice and full page breaks are all illustrated with blown up sepia colored images of Barry's artwork. I have to say this is a gorgeous book. It has no dust jacket but that's a plus in my opinion.
To have Barry' Windsor Smith's line work back in the saddle makes this volume (and hopefully the following one) superior to the Chronicles editions and the the over all package makes it a great book if not a perfect book. My greatest problem with coloring is the very last tale "Rogues in the House" which, while not as overpowering, is still a little sad to look at.
Despite that it is a small drawback and I'll still recommend this volume even over the comics themselves if even just because this is sturdier and well produced. Also at $50 (and considerably less from Amazon) there's no way to get all eleven issues for anywhere close to this price. The first issue alone is routinely selling for over $200.
The second Conan Archive will be in my hands as soon as it's made available.
First of all, the cover is done in a beautiful faux-leather, with an inset full color image of Conan. It simply feels wonderful to just hold.
The artwork, in the bold colors described in the previous review, is vividly reproduced on heavy stock. There's a ribbon bookmark sewn in.
If you're a fan, you know and love these stories, and probably have them in several iterations.
This is the keeper. (Besides, you know, the actual comics themselves...)
I own hundreds upon hundreds of hardcover comic collections...and this has instantly joined the short list of the nicest ones I own...
In fact, I always assumed they had a father/son John Adams/John Quincy Adams-type of thing going, where "W" used his middle name to separate himself from his famous father who was in the same profession. Of course, I was wrong. Fortunately, Dark Horse Comics has cleared up any such misconceptions with their release of "The Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives volume one."
Reprinting the first half of his legendary run on Marvel's Conan from 1970-73, this beautiful hardback puts Windsor-Smith's name proudly on the cover, corrects the coloring issues seen in previous reproductions, and delivers a fitting tribute to a ground-breaking comic. Almost like a smaller version of the Dark Horse Hellboy Library Editions rather than the existing Archive Editions, "The Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives" comes complete with a faux-leather hardbound cover, the reproductions of all of the Windsor-Smith Conan covers, and a lengthy introduction by writer Roy Thomas.
Windsor-Smith's run on the original series truly shows the development of an artist and the evolving format of the American comic book. With the first few issues, Windsor-Smith is little more than a skilled Kirby-imitator, and writer Roy Thomas is just laying down chunky plots as if he were writing a standard 70s-era Marvel superhero comic. However, along the way something magical happened.
Thomas delved even deeper into Robert E. Howard's work, allowing more of Howard's richly detailed worlds and living characters to bubble up through the pages of the comic. Meanwhile, Windsor-Smith began introducing elements from the Pre-Raphaelite painters (like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones) into his work. He retained Kirby's dynamic energy, but used an artistry of line theretofore unseen in the comics world.
The two, Thomas and Windsor-Smith, hit that perfect groove of innovation and skilled collaboration that happens so rarely but always results in amazing comics. However, volume one of "The Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives" does not collect the best of the Thomas and Windsor-Smith run--that won't happen until volume two with the beautiful "Frost Giant's Daughter" when Windsor-Smith really starts cracking home runs with every swing.
The first few stories in this volume are clunky at best, with neither writer nor artist really comfortable in the fantasy world. One story, "Zuakal's Daughter," pits Conan against a wizard who shares more with Dr. Doom than he does with Thulsa Doom. However, we do get to see the first snatches of brilliance here with such direct Howard-adaptations as "The Tower of the Elephant." We are also treated to the continuation of Lin Carter's penchant for adapting non-Conan Howard stories into Conan stories--as seen in "Twilight of the Grim Grey God."
Because Dark Horse is reprinting these stories as "The Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives," I assume the two Gil Kane fill-in issues from the original run will be excluded from volume two. However, the "Red Nails" one-shot will be included, which is a fair compromise.
Now, Dark Horse already has a series of softbound collected editions of the Marvel comics Conan series, and the issues collected in this volume can be found for cheaper price in The Chronicles of Conan, Vol. 1: Tower of the Elephant and Other Stories. However, this trade paperback series is not without controversy--particularly Dark Horse's decision to re-color the series using modern palettes and techniques unavailable at the time of the original publication--such as deep shadows, soft glows and finder gradation of colors.
The decision to re-color stories in this manner hit hard with the purists who saw the new colors distracting from, or even covering up, Windsor-Smith's delicate line work. Others said that the old colors were garish and simple, and that Dark Horse's new color scheme was a clear improvement. Regardless, when The Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives was first announced, Dark Horse promised that the stories would be "presented as they were intended, remastered using the original color palette!"
However, a quick glance through the book shows that Dark Horse's promise clearly did not happen. Changes were made with the re-coloring of the series. Nevertheless, this Archive edition retains the modern palette--with the broader range of colors and techniques--without obscuring Windsor-Smith's lines and intentions. Careful attention was paid to the placement of shadows and depth-of-field effects to make sure they did not compete with the original artwork.
Laying the three side-by-side, the original comic, the softbound collection, and this latest hardbound volume, it is clear that the current presentation is the superior version. As much as I love Windsor-Smith's comics in their original form, the colorist at the time was limited by the available technology, so Dark Horse's new colors are a distinct improvement. Purists probably are still going to be upset by the modern coloring, but I think you will be impressed if you give it a chance.
I just don`t see how can someone not love this book. You see right from the beginning the care that has been put into this project. The quality and originality of the stories has been preserved, since every page looks awesome.
Colors are very vivid and they don`t overwhelm the art as some people have said. I don`t know if they have been toned down, but I do know that they look beautiful. The printing is also top notch from start to finish. It impressed me so that I had the feeling that The Chronicles of Conan printing does not compare to this one!
The only gripe I have concerns the covers from each comic that are not as vivid as the stories themselves, but they still look good without a doubt.
Also worth mentioning is that the first stories present a Barry Smith that was still learning his way into greatness, so the art may not be as attractive as the one found in volume 2.
And beware that the price here on Amazon is an inviting temptation, since in many other sites the same books are sold for 50 dolars.
A very good book that should not be missed.
Other than that, this book is a great way to read all those old stories and follow the progression of Smith's craft. You can actually see the subtle improvements from issue to issue, despite some of the awful inking jobs by other artists that darn nearly ruin some of the issues. Same for the gaudy coloring as mentioned by others. The stories themselves are somewhat clunky as you can tell how both Thomas/Smith are sort of feeling their way around this new genre. Some have not aged well, but others like issue 3 with the Grey God is still a good read as well as issue 6 "Wings Over Shadizar". Of course Howard adaptions like "Tower of the Elephant" are also well executed. These eleven issues are serve as a lead in to the eventual pinnacle of Smith's work in Vol 2.