ISSUE #43: For the Love of Crom

 

Welcome back, CBSI, to another fresh issue of Cover Tunes. I’m especially excited about this week and I hope you agree. I also hope you all had a fantastic week of hunting and reading and spec’ing and doing all those nerdy things you do.

In the lull of the winter, when the con scene is dry and I spend more time sorting and reading than I do buying, I am often reminded of my Dungeons & Dragons days. Nights spent forgetting about time, disregarding calories and immersing oneself into a land of fantasy with close nerd friends who wouldn’t judge you in the morning.  I’ll never forget my character and I wish I still had the original stat sheet for him: Dale Thistledrift, a Halfling-Thief. I remember agonizing over the name with my older brother until it felt right.

Along with playing the game and collecting the action figures (man, they were so cool and underrated), I voraciously watched the cartoon which, incidentally, was the final cartoon on Saturday mornings. That roller coaster themed opening seemed so epic to me. I was all in as it really resonated with me.

I can also remember seemingly countless Saturday mornings after that last D&D cartoon when the only two movies on HBO were Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja. Over and over they seemed to play. I probably shouldn’t have watched either one of those at such a young age, but times were oddly different then. All-in-all, my childhood was very much one of Sword and Sorcery when it wasn’t being inundated by Star Wars.

 

Oddly, I never got into the Sword and Sorcery comics, back then. It wouldn’t be until later that I discovered Conan and Red Sonja in funny book form. However, with Marvel going full bore on Conan and related minis and Dynamite relaunching Red Sonja, it seemed high time for me to take a closer look at the “Sword & Sorcery” segment of the hobby. With its rabid fanbase, it is definitely a niche that has not been properly filled since the late 80’s and early ‘90’s.

DISCLAIMER: The genre of “Sword and Sorcery” can be loosely translated into virtually any comic book with elements of fantasy such as Vertigo’s Sandman and Fables or Zatanna and Swamp Thing… even Thor would largely fit that bill. However, for the sake of this week’s article, I am going to focus more on the pure version of what we categorize as Sword and Sorcery.

So, fear not, Ranger… Barbarian, Magician, Thief, Cavalier and Acrobat. I am Dungeon Master, your guide in the realm of Sword and Sorcery covers… away we go…

 

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DUNGEONS, DRAGONS, WIZARDS & MONSTERS

 

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Advanced Dungeons & Dragons #22 and #27 (1988 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – September, 1990 and March, 1991 (respectively)

ARTIST: Jan Duursema

 

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, DC put out a full range of Dungeons & Dragons comics exploring the major realms one might explore in the real-life roleplaying game such as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms and Spelljammer. These are highly overlooked books as they were quite fun stories with the cool added aspect of direct link-up to the game.

Not only were the stories paced very much akin to the game, but aspects of them, such as included stat sheets and character profiles, could be utilized by players in their real-life gaming. These are all dollar bin fodder and to be fair, most of the art is VERY forgettable, but they were really cool reads with a handful of excellent covers (mostly by Duursema) like the two featured here.

 

Dungeons & Dragons #0B (2010 Series)

PUBLISHED: IDW Publishing – August, 2010

ARTIST: Wayne Reynolds

 

Later on in the 2000’s, IDW revamped D&D titles and, as one might expect, the cover art improved exponentially. Again, like their DC brethren, these IDW issues are largely worthless, but there are some unbelievable covers in the various runs such as this one. Cover “A” is pretty cool, too, but not NEARLY as awesome as this “B” cover. This is quite simply an epic cover and everything one could ever dream for on a D&D book. That secondary inset painting in the crystal ball is amazing, too.

 

Elric #1 (1982 Series)

PUBLISHED: Pacific Comics – April, 1983

ARTIST: P. Craig Russell & Michael Gilbert

 

Roy Thomas, P. Craig Russell and Michael Gilbert adapted Michael Moorcock’s Elric Sword and Sorcery novelettes (which were published in Science Fantasy magazine from 1961-1964) into comics. There are some amazing covers, but this one is the stand-out. I’m not sure which aspect of this cover I like better; the little things happening on the framed edges or the main image.

I love how the main image is black and white while the rest of the cover is color. It pops in such a unique and creepy way, but don’t sleep on all the cool nuggets along the edges like demons and sorcerers and other uber-coolness. I have only ever seen this in the bins once in my life, but on the bay and other online sources it can be snagged for a couple of bucks.

 

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STRONG MEN

 

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Conan the Barbarian #115 (1970 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – October, 1980

ARTIST: John Buscema

 

Okay, this column isn’t complete without a look at Conan. I love Barry Windsor Smith’s, John Buscema’s and Gil Kane’s art on Conan… as a matter of fact, Conan the Barbarian’s cover artist list is literally a who’s-who of comics during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Artists such as Jim Lee, Geof Isherwood, John Romita Sr., Todd McFarlane, Ernie Chan, Alfredo Alcala, Arthur Adams and many others had art that graced the covers of this series.

The list goes on and on, but throughout the 275 issues of the run, very few covers stand out amongst the sea of busy action, gratuitous muscles, generic damsels in distress, over-abundant trade dress, word bubbles, barcodes and ad banners. It is maddening to try to sift through all of those distractions in order to get to the actual art.  

From a raw art perspective, my top ten (in no particular order) are as follows: #16 (Windsor Smith), #88 (Buscema), #98 (Buscema), #100 (Buscema… also note this is the death of Belit), #105 (Buscema), #163 (Chan), #175 (Buscema), #218 (Lee), #241 (McFarlane) and #242 (Lee).

HOWEVER, I chose this #115 because it is a great overall composition that instantly feels iconic and that iconographic nature pushes through the clutter of that pesky TRU ad banner. It is a strikingly powerful image that pops, especially due to that yellow background. There is a sort of story summary in the green backdrop drawings which adds a subtlety while not taking away from the strength of the foreground feature.  This issue has the added bonus of being a Red Sonja book, as well.

 

Conan the Slayer #1 (2016 Series)

PUBLISHED: Dark Horse Comics – July, 2016

ARTIST: Lee Bermejo

 

This Bermejo Conan cover is just bonkers. Savage, brutal, action-packed and in your face. A beautiful composition from an artist who’s finally starting to get his due. It is masterfully rendered in a style very much in the vein on Parrillo. This one can still be found cheaply even though it has the “feel” of an expensive variant cover.

 

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STRONG WOMEN

 

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Savage Tales #1 (2007 Series)

PUBLISHED: Dynamite Entertainment – April, 2007

ARTIST: Arthur Suydam

 

I am just as guilty as anyone on this, but so much focus is placed on the Parrillo and Frison Sonja covers that we often forget about so many other fantastic artists that have worked on her in the modern age.

Inasmuch, this Suydam is probably my all-time favorite and I’ve been waiting to feature it for quite some time. It is such an elegant cover with an incredibly alluring pose. The rendering is impeccable and the composition laid out perfectly. The juxtaposition of beauty and brutality is expertly accomplished on this cover. It is a masterpiece in my opinion. It definitely doesn’t pop up often, but when it does, it can be had for $10 or less.

NOTE FOR VARIANT HUNTERS: There is an uber-rare virgin version of this cover. Good luck finding one of those. The main run was 16,872 split over 3 titles (50% for the “A”, 25% for the “B” and 25% for the “C”). The virgin was an undisclosed ratio variant.

 

Amazing Heroes Swimsuit Special (1990 Series)

PUBLISHED: Fantagraphics Books – June, 1992

ARTIST: Frank Thorne

 

No discussion of Red Sonja is complete without mentioning Frank Thorne. Frank was an interesting choice to take on Red Sonja in that he was largely an erotica artist working on titles for Playboy (Moonshine McJugs), Heavy Metal (Lann) and National Lampoon (Danger Rangerette). Taking over for Barry Windsor Smith on Marvel Feature #2 in 1976 (Red Sonja’s first solo spinoff run), Thorne would become synonymous with Red Sonja even though many others would draw her in the main Conan the Barbarian title and Savage Sword of Conan Magazine (most notably, John Buscema). Most of the 7-issue Marvel Feature run and 15-issue Red Sonja run were pencilled, inked and colored by Frank as well as having done the covers for the majority of them.

HOWEVER… You know me by now. I like to pull strange covers out of my… head… and while I could easily have chosen to highlight any of the 18 total issues of Marvel Feature/Red Sonja that Thorne did the covers for, I chose something a little off the beaten path. Everything that is awesome about the way Frank drew Red is out to play on this awesome Amazing Heroes cover. It’s tough to find, but cheap when you do. I just finally found one for $5, last week. Inside, there’s some early work by Adam Hughes, as well. Double the pleasure for the change in your pocket.

 

Xena: Warrior Princess #5 (2016 Series)

PUBLISHED: Dynamite Entertainment – August, 2016

ARTIST: Jenny Frison

 

An oft neglected little set of covers by Jenny, this one almost never pops up, but when it does, it is usually cheap, cheap, cheap. I just love the pose and power of this one as it exemplifies all that we have come to love about her no-famous Wonder Woman “B” cover run. It has that subtle shading and gentle line work that is so feminine in its strength. The print run was tiny at 5000.

NOTE FOR VARIANT HUNTERS: There is a 1 for 10 virgin version of this cover which is pretty ghostly, too. 500 or less of those bad boys.

 

Dragon’s Lair #1 (2006 Series)

PUBLISHED: Arcana Studios – August, 2006

ARTIST: Donald Virgil (Don) Bluth

 

Here’s a fun one. Anyone remember trying to play this beautiful arcade game? Anyone remember ever getting past the first level? Nope… definitely not me. What was designed as video game and created/animated by John Bluth, Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy became a comic book in 2003 over two series published by Arcana. All the covers are cool, but this one is the coolest. Not an easy get since the print run was tiny (so small I can’t even find the numbers on comichron), but when they do turn up, the entire run sells cheaply with this #1 being a touch more than the others. You shouldn’t have to pay more than $10, though. Often, they are sold in sets for $20-$40 which, if you dig this style, is a bargain.

 

*****  

 

Phew… that was a lot. I hope there was a little something in there for everyone. There is much more to cover in this genre (pun intended). Busting it down to 10 covers was quite difficult, but I hope it was a good start. Sound off in the comments, this week, and let me know what I missed. Stay tuned for a “Part 2” of this one as there are many, MANY more to feature such as Warlord, Kull, Deja Thoris, a film or two, another one for the kids, some Frazetta and a surprise or two. Until then, adventurers, be well, thanks for reading and happy hunting.

 

12 comments

  • Matthew King

    Dungeons & Dragons #0B is so DOPE. I picked up the Elric mini series as a set in Knoxville 2 weeks ago. ( That cover really caught my eye. ) Peeps are Sleeping on those SAVAGE TALES ( 2007) I scoop them up whenever I see them. ( The VIRGIN SEJIC COVER is a MUST HAVE ) 9.8’s are going for stupid Money and just the trade dress alone is worth it’s weight in gold. ( One of my all time favorite cover’s… I got a 9.6 3 weeks ago ) LOVE the Xena: Warrior Princess #5 Jenny Frison. Def, gonna pick up some of those. Truly great info here… Getting in cheap on the ground floor is critical and these books do not have a high print run. Stellar Job Mike Morello ! We both are truly on the same page.

    • Mike Morello

      Matthew, it definitely seems were are indeed on the same page. This entire segment of the hobby is a guilty pleasure of mine. I invest WAYYYYY too much money in sword and sorcery stuff. Most of it will probably never be worth anything, but I love it so much and stand by the mantra “Buy what you love.”

      I wholeheartedly agree that getting in on the ground floor is critical with this stuff. As you say, the print runs are tiny, tiny, tiny on a lot of these books and when/if they get hot, they dry up SUPER-fast.

      Thanks for the read and the comment. I appreciate it, man.

  • Avatar

    you hit me in the nostalgia with those D&D covers, i’ll be looking for these wherever i go now.

    on the Red Sonja’s there’s a Virgin and a Negative variant for that cover, i just picked up the Virgin because it’s awesome. and check out Savage Tales 8 Suydam, Great Cover!

    Dragon’s Lair 1 2003 has a Graham Crackers exclusive that is really hard to find and the cover you listed is pretty hard to find too. not worth a ton but tough for sure.

    • Mike Morello

      It certainly is a tough one for sure, that Dragon’s Lair. I did not know about the Graham Cracker one. Great info, there.

      The virgin that I mention for Savage Tales #1 is an undisclosed ratio variant. Do you have any idea what the ratio was? I can’t remember and it doesn’t seem to be listed anywhere. Some of them were as high as 1:50. As for the negative variant, I didn’t list it only because, to me, it’s not the same cover art. It looks so different like that that it really doesn’t appeal to the same people.

      You’re right, that #8 Suydam is awesome… actually, almost all of the covers in that whole run are amazing. I own most of them in trade dress, but I’d love the virgins of them. I’ll need lots of luck to find those.

      The D&D series is a guilty pleasure of mine. Glad you enjoyed seeing them. Thanks so much for the comment. I really appreciate it.

  • Ben C

    Superb! Love this topic, but the winner has to be that Savage Tales… Wow wow wow.

    Thanks Mike!

  • Dan Piercy

    The Savage Tales and the Frison Xena. Noice!

  • Adam Lebednik

    great article! so much good info.

  • ninesquareinches.com
    Avatar

    Love this stuff… thanks very much!

  • Dell18

    Was filing books away earlier this week and as I was thumbing through the S’s I stopped and pulled that Suydam to look at it for a sec as I often do when I run across his books in my collection. I’m glad he finally got a little overdue recognition around and after the time his Marvel Zombie covers came out. Still don’t think he gets enough love. Same goes for P. Craig Russell. I think I was mildly aware of him before, but his Sandman 50 art blew my mind at the time. That Elric cover is damn cool with the black and white. Love those Pacific books. Thanks for tipping me to another Frison I was unaware of and good call on the Frank Thorne. That’s a slick cover and judging by all the names on that cover, one that likely contains interior art worth tracking down too. Great write up once again and I’ve never even played D&D or any RPG even once.

    • Mike Morello

      Thanks, Dell, as always for the comment. Oddly, even without playing games like that, the genre is oddly alluring. My wife even loves this stuff and she’s never touched a roleplaying game. There’s a LOT more of this stuff and it’s all really cool… more to come, my friend.

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