Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Spotlight On: Barry Windsor-Smith

Doug:  It's been a very long time since we took a day to converse on a given creator -- no story, no collaborators, no other nothings -- just one guy.  Today the spotlight falls on Barry Smith, subsequently Barry Windsor-Smith. I'm hoping some of our British friends will offer their perspectives on the artist as well.

Doug:  Smith began in our public eye as a Kirby-clone at Marvel Comics in the pages of the Uncanny X-Men.  He later earned the pencilling chores alongside Roy Thomas's scripts in Marvel's licensing of the Conan the Barbarian franchise.  Later yet, he had a short stint on Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers.  Was Weapon X his best work for the House of Ideas?

Doug:  More recently, Smith's work was seen in the 1990's at Malibu and Valiant, as well as at Image Comics.  What's your opinion on this somewhat chameleonic (I made that word up) artist?  When have you loved his work, and along the way what has he done that wasn't your cup of tea?


pete doree said...

Well, I'm british, so I'll kick in first then:
Likes: Obviously Conan, which like most of us, was our intro to the character. I still remember being amazed watching Bazza get better & better issue by issue till he was unrecognizable from the Kirby clone he started out as.
His work on 'Red Nails' and the 'Hawks From The Sea' issues is genuinely breathtaking, but I still have a soft spot for earlier issues like 'Zukala's Daughter' too. Face it, that whole run is one of the classic runs of any comic.
I'd also say 'The Studio' which, if pushed, is probably my favourite among all the books I own. If there was a fire, that's the one I'd grab first, for sure.

Dislikes: I bought 'Young Gods & Friends' and 'Adastra In Africa' a few years ago and found them great to look at, ( with exceptional production values ) but nearly unreadable as stories. Sorry, Bazza, but not every great artist is a great writer too, I really think he needs a great writer to bounce off of.

Finally, he'll always be plain ol' Barry Smith to us on this side of the pond. I just can't take that 'Windsor' seriously. I'm sure It is an old family name, but I'm also sure I read a story somewhere where he was at some high class party, pontificating about being a 'Windsor-Smith' but when challenged by somebody of an equal double-barreled name, couldn't actually back it up with genuine history.
He does take himself way too seriously, but I kind of like that, I feel someone whom draws like that couldn't help being up their own arse!

I've never read 'Weapon X' but I do sort of feel he shouldn't be wasting his talent on generic super-hero stuff anyway. I know everybody's got to eat, but I'd be more happy to buy stuff like 'The Beguiling' from Epic than anything like that. Just if he got someone else to do the scripts!

david_b said...

Like a few others, I've lauded QUITE a bit of praise for Mr. Windsor-Smith, though I only really know him from his superhero work (Avengers, Daredevil, X-Men..), in fact I was specifically hunting down his issues earlier this year, picking up the X-Men Blastaar and DD issues.

While most of you love him for his Conan sword-and-sorcery work, I was never a big fan of those tales. But from the mainstay titles I mentioned, I loved how he aped Steranko and Kirby, sort of a 'love child' composite of the two.., Steranko's composition, angles and floating heads juxtaposed with Kirby's simplistic intensity. Perhaps not all that original, but who cares..?

"Truely a match made in Heaven...."

With collecting more Masterworks now, my penchant for collecting individual Silver/Bronze issues has decreased slightly, but I still have a life-long pursuit to collect his hero issues, just to lay back on the hammock and enjoy.

As I've said before, he's like the substitute teacher who walks in, thrills you, and you wish he'd never leave.

Anonymous said...

He can't draw faces to save his life, unless he's gotten a lot better since I stopped reading his stuff in the seventies. Everybody looked weird in the comics I have.


Steve Does Comics said...

I'm with Pete on the "Windsor" thing. I don't know how it comes across to Americans but I suspect that, to most British people, it comes across as ludicrous, fey and pretentious.

I must admit I do have a soft spot for even Bazza's early work on the likes of Daredevil and the Avengers. The draftsmanship's a lot cruder than his later work but you can still see the sense of design and layout showing through even at that stage.

I loved his short stint on Dr Strange, his work on Ka-Zar and his return to the Avengers for the war with Olympus.

Red Nails is his masterpiece, in my eyes.

Roygbiv666 said...

Sorry for the off topic post, but I can't find any way to contact the bloggers directly.

Any thought to a column on the recently deceased Ernie Chan, who did so many DC covers in the 1970s and "Savage Sword of Conan" for Marvel?

Edo Bosnar said...

Roy, I'll save our moderators the trouble by directing you to the suggestion box on the home page's sidebar (and yes, I agree, Chan would be a nice topic).
As to the topic at hand, with the possible exception of those early X-men issues, I like everything I've seen drawn by BWS, both super-hero or not. Interesting thing for me was that Smith actually got me interested in Conan comics in a kind of backward way: I picked up a few of those late 1970s pocketbooks reprinting the early issues drawn by Smith, and really enjoyed both the stories and, especially, the art, and this prompted me to start getting the regular series (which I had been avoiding up until that point).
Another personal favorite: his finishes over Trimpe's layouts in that Machine Man mini-series.
As for the 'Windsor' thing - I'll take the word of our British friends that it's probably pretentious, but it does sound cooler than just plain old Smith...

Rip Jagger said...

Barry (Not-Yet-Windsor) Smith and I hit the comics scene at about the same time. He was a novice artist among a gang of seasoned pros and I was a mere fan who got to see this youngster develop his skills until he became one of the top talents of his generation.

His earliest work on the one-shot X-Men and a few covers was energetic but in truth quite rough. His later work on SHIELD was innovative but so again lacked the skill to make the entertaining images cohere as a story. His Avengers run (the first one) was better, but still rugged.

Then came Conan and he began to improve by leaps and bounds until by the end, he was the highly regarded fantasy specialist we know (and mostly) love. Red Nails still blows me away.

But as fast as he came, so just as quickly he bolted the field becoming a "fine" artist who specialized in prints and whatnot. His comics career was a white-hot as had been one of his prime inspirations, the great Steranko.

I bought The Studio, was impressed by it, but little else after that.

But after some time he returned on one project then another. He was tapped to bring a stylistic sense to Valiant and I fell in love with his work all over again.

He's become something of an old master now, one of the venerable pros. It's been nice in many ways to see this great talent mature, but I will admit to still loving that early stuff for its sheer unbridled power. Enthusiasm can overcome many faults.

Rip Off

HannibalCat said...

His Conan work was lovely - but see the spread on him in an issue of Epic Magazine for his non-comics wonderfulness. As to his Marvel work, I think the single piece of his inking I love the most is the first chapter of the Marvel Treasury, Captain America's Bicentennial Battles. The most unlikely Kirby inker ever turns in a stellar job.

Unknown said...

I never became a big fan, and I think it's because I just didn't care about barbarians in the 70's. I was pretty much interested in superheroes and things with a science fiction angle, and Conan just hit all the wrong buttons for me. That being said, I was always impressed by his Conan artwork when I saw it. I just never read any of the stories.

I have to say, looking at his unimpressive start on superheroes to his fine art pints later, his artistic evolution is astonishing. I mean, his X-Men work isn't much better than anything by Werner Roth or Don Heck in the same period. But look at Adams and Heck 5 years later. Wow!

James Chatterton

Unknown said...

Oops! I meant to say "But look at Smith and Heck 5 years later." Sorry.

James Chatterton

Kid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kid said...

For those of you who may be interested in seeing really early Barry Snith work, take a look at http://kidr77.blogspot.com/2012/06/part-seven-of-fantastic-cover-gallery.html - most (if not all) the back page pin-ups featured are by young Barry when he was about 18. (Forgive the plug.)

Inkstained Wretch said...

I'm a big fans of his early period "Kirby Klone" work. Some of the first comics I ever bought were Marvel Super Action reprints of his Avengers issues. Yes, the art is derivative in style but there is real energy in those panels.

I haven't actually read too much of his later stuff though. I have the three issues of the Machine Man mini-series. I am looking for the fourth before I read it through.

Regarding his name, I - like I think most Americans - just shrug and say "whatever works for you, dude." Wasn't there some other English dude who said something about a rose and it still smelling sweet no matter what its name? Yeah, what he said.

pete doree said...

As I brought this up, maybe some clarification: It's a real british thing, I know, but we're bred from birth to not stick our heads above the parapet. There is definately an element in this country of: ' Who d'you think you are, making yourself out to be something special? I knew you when you didn't have an arse in your trousers ' all that kind of thing.
It's not 100 percent serious ( not serious at all really in this case ), but I think that's why british fans go: ' You're Barry Smith, you little oik, now behave yerself or I'll tell your Dad '

Steve Does Comics said...

To back up what Pete's just said, for someone to pretend to be from a class that they're not makes that person seem like a fraud and a phony. I believe the woman Pete mentioned in his first comment was Jim Shooter's then-girlfriend who saw through Smith's act of poshness straight away and thought he was an idiot for doing it.

It also works the other way round. Posh people who pretend to be "street" just come out of it looking like fools.

The big problem for Barry Smith is that "Windsor" is the fake surname the British Royal Family use to make themselves sound quintessentially English. Their real surname is Saxe-Coburg-&-Gotha. So, for someone working-class to adopt the name "Windsor" really is turning the pretension dial up to 11. It gives the impression that he's trying to pass himself off as only one step removed from royalty.

J.A. Morris said...

I'm not a huge fan, but I've always respected his talent. I didn't read 'Red Nails' until years later, it's brilliant.

humanbelly said...

Avengers #66 is a terrific example of that Kirby/Starlin synthesis that folks were talking about. It's incredibly cool and visually eye-catching--- but sometimes not 100% clear in letting you know what's going on. There's that full-page panel of the Vision ("Did You Ever Walk Through Something That Wasn't?"), for instance, that doesn't exactly feel like it's quite in the story-- even though it clearly is. Also like the big mansion living room panel w/ insets of the speaking characters' heads.

My complaint about BWS's work in general (and I'm sure this has been brought up in the past) is that his male faces in particular often tend(ed) to look almost hopelessly and inappropriately effeminate. Big, pretty eyes, sharp features, and narrow jaws-- just doesn't say "ARES, GOD OF WAR" to me, y'know?

But hey, that 1st page of Avengers #100? The entirety of the team gathered near the castle, at night? With the beautiful shadows from the over-hanging tree? That is a great, great piece of comic art.

And yep, I'll go with RED NAILS as a likely best-ever. I somehow managed to acquire at some point the big Treasury Edition of it. . . don't ask me when. . . and it's just a joy to peruse. I'm guessing those editions were pretty near to the size of the true physical drawings?

A thought on the earliest issues of the Conan run: the quality varied wildly depending on both his learning curve AND on who was inking him. I've got the hardbound DarkHorse reprints, and Sal Buscema (w/out seeming to take any credit) really does a tremendous job of supporting and enhancing another up&coming artist when he needs it most. Always a superhero in his own right.


Garett said...

Red Nails is fantastic. I read it in the reprint version from the '80s with new coloring. I also like his inking on Kirby for Captain America, great synthesis.

His other work--I've given much of it a try, from the early superheroes to the later Machine Man and Young Gods, but it ultimately doesn't do it for me. Could be the writing, as someone mentioned. But even the art--in Doug's writeup we see early Vision and later Rune, and neither one as a drawing quite satisfies me. The Conan period had the right blend of enthusiasm (as Rip said) and structure, and later artfulness.

Kazar from that period is also great, from Astonishing Tales--learned about that from the review on this site!

Hmm.. John Windsor-Byrne.
Jack Windsor-Kirby.
Todd Windsor-McFarlane.

humanbelly said...

Hmmm. . .
Wally Windsor-Wood. . .

Edo Bosnar said...

Wally Windsor-Wood *snort*; sounds like a great name for a Bond villain if the Bond movies were porn franchise (of course, it would have to be Wallace rather than Wally).
By the way, humanbelly, your observation about the way Smith draws male faces is precisely why I preferred his Conan back then - he drew him handsome and, to me, heroic, rather than the ugly and mean look that John Buscema gave him (remember, I'm talking about my impressions as a little kid in the late 1970s, not now - I've come around to seeing Buscema's as the definitive comic-book version of Conan).
And yes, I'll add my own praises to "Red Nails." I recall reading something Roy Thomas wrote about Smith's art, comparing him to the finest Art Nouveau illustrators, and I think that really comes to the fore in Red Nails. Also, I like how Smith draws Valeria, specifically the way she's dressed - she looks the way Howard described her in the original story, and not like a participant in a lingerie show.

Related Posts with Thumbnails