ISSUE #44: Under the Spell

 

Welcome back to a fresh week of Cover Tunes, fellow hunters. Some serious rain and flooding kept most of us cooped up in Music City, this weekend. Thus, I had ample time to hunt down a few cool covers for you on the interwebs and re-watch some childhood films. In continuing last week’s Sword & Sorcery feature, I present Part 2, this week. Thanks so much for the comments and kind words for last week’s part 1. I really enjoy this segment of the hobby and I was humbled by some of last week’s praise. It is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine and I sincerely appreciate you all.

So, back to storytime with Uncle Mike (skip down if you just want this week’s covers)… when I was a wee lad, I can recall the first quintet of films I saw in our local single-screen theater that weren’t Tron, Transformers or Empire Strikes Back. They were The Hobbit (1977 Bass and Rankin Animated version), The Dark Crystal (1982), The Neverending Story (1984), Legend (1985) and Labyrinth (1986). The Hobbit must have been a re-release as it initially was released when I was a mere ten months old.

For some of those films, they were so influential (and downright frightening) that I can actually recall where in the theater I was sitting when I saw them. Amazing how the memory works. So there he was, little Mikey (or Mick as my Dad called me) with his roll of Bottle Caps on the burgundy velvet seats totally entranced by the fantasy worlds of cinema. I count myself among the lucky.

Altogether, when realizing that for many of us, those were the “kids” films of the decade, it is amazing I didn’t turn out to be a much stranger child (and an even stranger adult). However, when coupled with the Dungeons & Dragons stories I told, last week, I also come to the realization that we 70’s/80’s babies had a wildly imagination-driven childhood. It is no wonder many of us gravitate toward the Fantasy genres of films, comics, literature, toys and the like. It is ingrained in us. Film-Makers and creators have clearly used this to their advantage and it is probably the lynchpin behind the success of such things as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Game of Thrones; essentially adult versions of our childhood.

Thus, it hurt my heart to hear that the Red Sonja film has been tabled (hopefully only temporarily) and the Conan project abandoned. Hopefully, they will eventually find their way back into production. Maybe we will at the very least get that Middle Earth series on Amazon which still seems to be on tap. With that, I turn to comics (my old dear friend who always seems to come through for me). Here are 10 incredible covers to spark your fantastic imaginations.

     

Red Sonja #50c (2005 Series)

PUBLISHED: Dynamite Entertainment – June, 2010

ARTIST: Joe Jusko

 

With the slow-burn popularity of the relaunched Red Sonja #1 1:75 Joe Jusko variant (which is doooooope, BTW, and still listing/selling for $65-$80), I wanted to remind readers of this AMAZING cover he did for Sonja all the way back in Dynamite’s first 2005 series. This issue had four covers since it sort of functioned as a new #1. Dynamite took a brief break from their main Sonja title to do the Queen Sonja mini and, when they returned to this series, they released this one as an anniversary double issue with some reprinted material combined with new.

This cover demonstrates how perfectly suited Jusko is to doing these types of covers. Tough and beautiful and masterfully rendered. It is every bit a full-on composition with a fantastic foreground piece pushing the figure of Sonja back to create depth. The lighting is impeccable and Red looks stunning, fierce and sexy. I particularly love the attention to genre details such as the messed up fingernails on the foreground warrior’s hand.

Because of the spark in demand of Jusko’s Sonja stuff (due at least in part to the aforementioned variant), copies of this one have dried up, at the moment. It was a fairly low print run at 13,017 split over four covers. Thus, there are probably only about 3,250 copies of this puppy… probably fewer. That said, I do find it pretty regularly and, if you can locate one in the bins, it sells for next to nothing… $10 tops.

 

Dark Kingdom #1 (2008 Mini Series)

PUBLISHED: Image Comics – April, 2008

ARTIST: Frank Frazetta

 

My, my… this is one sick cover! If the character reminds you of DC’s Warlord, well, it does look awfully similar, but DC’s Warlord books never sported covers like these (see below for a couple of cool Warlord covers, BTW). This one is just gorgeous and reminds us all why Frazetta was the man! The intricacies in the detail are astounding. The understanding of musculature and pose are masterful and the creation of perspective is subtle, yet highly effective. It’s covers like these that often make me question why we go crazy for some of the modern variants we do that pale in comparison to works like these. This one doesn’t pop up often, but it is easy to get at $10 or less off ebay.

 

Kull the Conqueror #9 & #10 (1983 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – April, 1985 and June, 1985 (respectively)

ARTIST: Barry Windsor Smith

 

These two covers have to be featured as a pair and they are incredibly masterful BWS works; perhaps among his best. Highly detailed and clearly companions to one another, they show why Barry Windsor Smith’s stuff is so sought after. His line work is unique and instantly recognizable. There is such power and tension in these covers (and, really, all of Smith’s work).

For some reason, this little 10 issue series doesn’t pop up in the bins very often. The series prior to and after seem to always lurk in the longboxes. So, while you may have a little difficulty locating these two, they are dollar books when they are there.

 

The Warlord #53 & #102 (1974 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – January, 1982 & February, 1986 (respectively)

ARTIST: Mike Grell

 

Add equal parts Conan and Thor, mix vigorously, come up with a label and voila… a competitor for Marvel’s Sword & Sorcery titles is born. Granted, Marvel borrowed their own from other earlier Authors like Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and others, too. Regardless, DC tried like hell (and mostly failed) to come up with something that might snag market share away from Marvel. This Warlord title was the one to finally do it. It lasted an impressive 133 issues and much of that is often attributed to Mike Grell’s work on the covers (and sporadically as co-writer).

To show off Grell’s versatility, I’ve featured two of the best covers from the run, but there are a few others that are awesome, too. These two covers demonstrate quite different approaches to the art for the same series and by the same artist. Grell was able to flex his artistic muscles and it shine brightly, here.

The washed pencils on #102 give a very rough vibe and, in close-up, make this cover feel quite visceral. Meanwhile, the “standard” approach on #53 give that cover a flow and grace that make it a stand-out amongst the many “Dude with a sword” covers scattered throughout the run.

Because of the popularity of the title and the lack of scarcity (upwards of 85,000-100,000 copies per month, supposedly) everything from this title is dollar bin fodder apart from #1, but there are some gems, as one can see. Other issues worth noting from an artistic standpoint are #50, #70, #74 and #117.    

 

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MAGAZINES

 

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Savage Sword of Conan #102 (1974 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – July, 1984

ARTIST: Bill Sienkiewicz

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention one magazine in this 2-part segment of Cover Tunes. There are so many epic covers from the Savage Sword of Conan series (and others). Picking just one is nearly impossible, but I went with one of my all-time favorites and, surprise… it’s by Bill Sienkiewicz. This has a similar feel to his What-If? #43 Cover, so I am featuring that one alongside this one for comparison’s sake. Let’s take a look…

 

 

What-If? [Conan were Stranded in the 20th Century?] #43 (1977 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – February, 1984

ARTIST: Bill Sienkiewicz

 

Both of these Conan covers by Sink have a less manic and “scattered” style than many of his other covers. There is a tighter cohesiveness to these that displays the character’s strength and savagery. I am particularly impressed by Bill’s ability to make weathered metal look authentic through paint and whatever else he’s using at the moment – if you’ve seen him work, you know what I mean. It is yet another testament to this great master’s talents. Call me a Sienkiewicz fanboy all you like (it has become something of a joke by now), but there is a reason I am consistently choosing his work. It is just THAT good.

Both of these covers are easy gets at $5 or less. The What-If? Has seen a little heat with Conan being brought back into the current Marvel timeline through the Avengers and solo titles, but not enough to make it expensive… yet.

 

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MOVIE TIE-IN

 

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Dragonslayer #1 (1981 Mini Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – October, 1981

ARTIST: Earl Norem

 

Here is one that is probably in almost every .50 cent bin, yet it is a gorgeous cover for an underrated film. I rewatched it recently and it has held up much better than I expected. Granted, the special effects are very “80’s,” but that doesn’t stop it from being compelling. This amazing painted cover is not only an awesome summation of the film, but it is an expert composition (well, three compositions, actually). Normally, I wouldn’t dig the segmented nature of this cover, but for whatever reason, this one grabs me.  

 

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FOR THE KIDS

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The Hobbit or There and Back Again #3 (1989 Mini Series)

PUBLISHED: Eclipse Books – Late 1989

ARTIST: David T. Wenzel

As I mentioned in my intro, long before Peter Jackson got his hands on the film rights, the Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Hobbit animated film from 1977 is a staple of my childhood. It spawned a love for the Lord of the Rings (Ralph Bakshi, 1978) and Return of the King (Bass/Rankin 1980) animated films that would follow. Oddly, for such a popular franchise, there is very little in the way of comic-related merchandise. This little three part mini series for the Hobbit, though, is a beautiful rendition with fully painted interior sequentials and published in the prestige format. A very slick little set of books with gorgeous painted art that very much brings this children’s adventure/sword and sorcery story to life.

 

*****

 

Well, that wraps up the Sword & Sorcery stuff on this end, but there are still a ton of other awesome covers in the genre (don’t forget titles such as Elfquest and even He-Man/MOTU). I hope there was something in here for everyone. I recommend doing a brief search for whatever segment of this topic you find most enticing. You’ll be surprised just how prolific the genre can be.

Next week, along with some dope covers, I am going to intro the article with a topic that I feel is becoming more and more important to the hobby as time rolls on. I’m really looking forward to your thoughts as a community on the topic. Until then, be well and good to each other, thanks for reading and happy hunting.

 

3 comments

  • Peter Renna

    Love the return of these fantasy type books. Conan coming back to Marvel has brought the focus back on a lot of this great stuff. What ever happened to BWS? Always enjoyed his work. And all of the great painted covers. Love it. 🤘😎🤘

  • Dell18

    Using Frazetta almost seems like cheating Mike. Ha. If you ever are around eastern PA, stop by the museum. It was just me and his Grandson there when I stopped by and his works are even more amazing in person. There’s one huge piece there I had never seen before and his Grandson just said “oh, yeah. That’s from later in his life. One he did left-handed.” Just mind blowing. Love that Warlord 53. I’ve never seen that one. Way to go kinda obscure with the BWS picks. Dragonslayer cover is killer, I hope I run across one of those soon.

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