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…
DUNGEONS, DRAGONS, WIZARDS & MONSTERS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.