Monday, August 17, 2009

Conan, Kirby, and Tales of Asgard

I was lamenting the other day, along with some other comics fans, that my hero, Jack Kirby, had never drawn an issue of Conan. Jack did a cover for Giant Size Conan #5 which is pretty cool, but Conan's face was redrawn in the printed version by John Romita Sr. so the final cover isn't pure Kirby. Romita also inked a cover Jack had done for one of the Marvel Calendars on which Conan appeared, and pretty much obliterated most of Jack's style. Not an easy thing to do. There's at least one pin-up of a barbarian that Jack drew which may be Conan. It shows up a lot on the internet. Anyway, that's pretty much it for Kirby and Conan.
So does that mean we never got to see how Jack would have handled a Sword & Sorcery comic? Nope. Fortunately for us, Jack drew a back-up feature in Thor called Tales of Asgard. Initially a feature which retold the Norse myths in comic book form, it eventually became a showcase for Kirby to draw the adventures of Thor in Asgard, presumably before he came to Earth as a super-hero. See in Asgard EVERYBODY is superhuman, so Thor's adventures are more like those of Conan. He fights monsters. He rides horses. He engages in massive battles as only Kirby could draw them, and he fights alongside three fellow Asgardian heroes, the Warriors Three, who are armed with swords and daggers and maces. And oh yes, he fights sorcerers too. It is the stuff of high adventure and gives a good idea of how Jack might have handled Conan. Of course, some people think the first five or so issues of Conan the Barbarian that Barry (Pre-Windsor) Smith drew are a good example as well, since Smith's early work is very much in the Kirby mode, but it's ersatz Kirby. ToA is the real thing. I was looking over some of the Asgard stories this weekend in Volumes one, two, and three of Marvel's Essential Thor and really enjoying them. I kind of wish someone would put together a volume of all the Tales and nothing else. And come to think of it, Marvel is currently reprinting Tales in newly colored newsstand comics. Me, I prefer the black and white version so I can see all the Kirby Magic.
There's also a one-off Kirby comic called Atlas, which a lot of folks point to as an example of Kirby sword & sorcery, but it always struck me as being closer to a Steve Reeves Hercules movie. Still, it does have sort of an S&S feel to it. So no, we never got a Kirby issue of Conan, but there's some stuff out there that comes tantalizingly close.

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