Tuesday, March 31, 2009

You've Come a Long Way, Baby: Barry (Windsor-) Smith on Ka-Zar

Who'da thunk it, Groove-ophiles? Back in 1968, Barry (Windsor) Smith was a struggling new artist, an obvious disciple of Jack Kirby. Interesting, quirky, but with a long way to go, as is quite evident by viewing his Ka-Zar cover (inked by Herb Trimpe) for Marvel Super-Heroes #19 (December 1968).

Fast forward to 1970/71. "Bashful Barry" was famously taking the world by storm on Conan the Barbarian, but he was also applying his mucho-improved penciling prowess--ironically, based on that cover--to the Lord of the Hidden Land in the pages of Astonishing Tales (issues 3-6, September 1970-March 1971). What a difference a couple of years made!

As they did in Conan, Marvel tried pairing a variety inkers with Smith's pencils over the course of this short Astonishing Tales run: Sam Grainger, Frank Giacoia, and Bill Everett. Barry's pencils were very strong on these issues, his style really asserting itself, so the merry-go-round of inkers didn't hurt the quality of the art at all, in Ol' Groove's opinion. In fact, Giacoia (AT #5) meshed with Smith much better than he did on their Conan team-up (Conan #5, February 1971), Grainger's inks (AT 3-4) were on par with Sal Buscema's Conan efforts, and Bill Everett--well, Golden Age great Bill Everett really "got" Barry's pencils. I, for one, would have loved to have seen some Smith/Everett art on Conan. Have a look at their pairing from AT #6 (story by Gerry Conway) and see if you don't agree...



  1. Hey Groove....this must be your recurring theme this week (if so, it's a good idea!): Artists who rapidly developed into something special after a weak beginning. This work by Smith is gorgeous and light-years ahead of where he was two years prior. Smith's consistent trademark in these years were those renderings of peoples' upper lip!

    My tastes for his work have also developed. I was never a big fan of Barry Smith or Neal Adams back in their heyday in the early 70s (the two artists who made the biggest impact in those years)......but as I matured I've come to love and respect the work of both. Great work!

  2. Y'know, Chris, I can see the theme, but I'll have to admit, it was totally by accident. Good thing I have intelligent, sharp readers to let me know what I'm doing--SOMEBODY'S gotta know what I'm doing, and if it's not me...

    Seriously, I really should do a week (or month) on the subject of rough beginnings/superstardom sometime--if I don't accidentally use up all the potential subjects before I start such a project! ;D

  3. I was quite taken with the cover to Marvel Super-Heroes # 19. Very Kirbyesque, but miles ahead of X-Men # 53 (And the interior had the delectable one-time pairing of George Tuska with Sid Greene). Bill Everett as Smith's inker in this outing was great. Bill always brought a sensational finish to whomever he was inking (his teaming with Jack Kirby on Thor # 170 - 175 still stand out these many years later). Too bad he didn't do more of it during the Groovy Age before his untimely death in 1973.



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Special thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics and Grand Comics Database for being such fantastic resources for covers, dates, creator info, etc. Thou art treasures true!

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