The Great Savage Sword Re-Read: Vol 3

Sunday, December 13th, 2015 | Posted by John R. Fultz

This series explores the Savage Sword of Conan collections from Dark Horse reprinting Marvel Comics’ premiere black-and-white fantasy mag from the 1970s. Click to read previous installments: Volume 1 / Volume 2

Vol3The third collected volume of Savage Sword of Conan includes issues #25 – 36 but begins with a short Barry Windsor-Smith piece that first ran in Savage Tales #2 a few years earlier. BWS adapts a Robert E. Howard poem called “Cimmeria” in a gorgeous 5-page feature. His black-and-white work is every bit as lush as his color work on the Conan the Barbarian comic (for which he is most well-known). The artists who did the black-and-white comic magazines of the 60s and 70s knew that drawing for a colorless publication demanded more from both pencilers and inkers. Especially inkers.

Savage Sword #25 was the last issue of 1977, hitting the stands while the original Star Wars movie mania was reaching its peak, and spiking sales of the Marvel Comics Star Wars title brought the company a new influx of capital. Roy Thomas had built an excellent Sword and Sorcery magazine during the turblent mid-70s, when publishers had to cut the number of pages in their comics and constantly raise their prices. This issue is another super job by Thomas, who faithfully adapts Howard’s “The Jewels of Gwahlur.” DC legend Dick Giordano steps in to illustrate this issue — seemingly from out of nowhere — and it’s obvious that Giordano is reaching for a Neal Adams-style Conan tale.

Adams had drawn a couple of landmark Conan tales by this time (in Savage Tales #4 and Savage Sword #14), and he left his unique imprint behind as usual — setting standards for other artists to follow. Giordano does a solid job on SS#25, but unless you’re an old-school fan of his work it comes off as Neal-Adams-Lite: a stiffer, less consistent version of the Neal Adams Conan from “Shadows in Zamboula.” Maybe if Giordano had stuck around he would have time to find his mojo on this book, but this feels like a filler issue. It has moments of greatness — certain panels and effects — but the consistency that marks John Buscema’s ongoing Savage Sword work is noticeably absent. The next issue solved this problem and started a new era of Conan greatness, thanks to the arrival of inker extraordinaire Tony DeZuniga.

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Thinking About What Makes The Shining and The Exorcist Work

Sunday, December 6th, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


Aw, man. This just ain’t right.

Sometimes in the course of growing as a writer, you fluke into a success before you grow the skills to consistently hit that success. My second-ever fiction sale was to Asimov’s Science Fiction in 2008 and over the following two-and-a-half years, I collected nothing but rejections from them.

My 2008 story had accidentally included enough good elements that it made it into the magazine, but I didn’t understand what those science fictional elements were or how to use them properly until about 2011.

I think the same thing happened to me with a story called “Dog’s Paw.” I thought I’d been writing a lit story when in fact, I had included horror elements that eventually got it published in a horror anthology, Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and a superb audio version at (British people make everything sound extra-good). After my experience with my 2008 Asimov’s story, I was under no illusions that I was a competent horror writer, just a lucky one.

This spring, I decided to try to write a horror story. Knowing my weakness, I deliberately tried to figure out what goes into a good horror story. And when I want to analyze story structure, I go first to movies, because I find it easier to see the moving parts.

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Check out the First Trailer for Captain America: Civil War

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Civil War was one of the biggest events in Marvel Comics roughly a decade ago, pitting Spider-Man, Iron Man and a host of other heroes against a tiny contingent led by Captain America. Marvel Studios has made a major effort to replicate the crossover impact of that event in the upcoming movie, which features a bevy of guest stars… see how many you can spot in the trailer above (hint: it’s a LOT.) Captain America: Civil War will be released on May 6, 2016.

The Great Savage Sword Re-Read: Vol. 2

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015 | Posted by John R. Fultz

In the first installment, I explored Volume 1 of the Savage Sword of Conan Dark Horse reprints of the classic Marvel Comics black-and-white magazine.

2577548-savage_sword_of_conan_015_01Volume 2 begins with Savage Sword of Conan #11 from 1976. A terrific issue written by Roy Thomas — who wrote most of the stories in the magazine its first few years — with art from John Buscema and Yong Montano. Buscema/Montano paring is an interesting one, and the results are every bit as lush and detailed as Alfredo Alcala’s inks in Volume One.

It’s too bad Montano only did this one issue of SS because he brought Buscema’s superb pencils to life as well as Alcala, yet with a decidedly different style that was no less immersive. This adaptation of Howard’s “The Abode of the Damned” isn’t your typical tale of the Cimmerian, as Conan is either off-screen or in disguise as “Shirkuh” for half the issue. It’s a brutal excursion into the violent lives of desert tribesmen, as seen through the eyes of the intrepid maiden Mellani. Seeking vengeance for her slain brother leads her right into captivity where Cimmerian-in-disguise is her only hope of surviving. Yong Montano didn’t turn into a regular Buscema inker like Alcala and later DeZuniga and Chan did, but on SS #11 he did a bang-up job creating that Buscema/Alcala level of artistic detail, while offering a fresh texture in his mastery of light and shadow.

In Savage Sword #12, reigning artistic champions John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala return to help Roy Thomas adapt Howard’s “The Slave Princess” into a Conan tale called “The Haunters of Castle Crimson.” The lush black ink work is the high standard of the magazine’s early years. Alcala’s hyper-detailed panels took Buscema’s masterful pencils to a whole new level of artistic integrity. Following their bravura performances in SS #2, 4, and 7, Buscema/Alcala bring more lighting-in-bottle greatness to these pages — and it’s their high-end work that highlights this entire second volume, beginning with SS #12.

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Dr. Strange, Part II: Becoming Sorcerer Supreme and Dying in the Englehart Era

Saturday, November 21st, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Marvel_Premiere_Vol_1_9In a blog post of some weeks ago, looked at the one of my favorite Dr. Strange periods, when they’d established his overall mythos. The early 1970s was another kick-ass period for Dr. Strange, when the Master of the Mystic Arts became the Sorcerer Supreme.

In 1971, after the end of the series Strange Tales, Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts found a home in Marvel Premiere with issue #3. Marvel was just beginning an eerie period that mirrored the monster movie craze of the 1970s.

This period brought into prominence Marvel’s werewolves, zombies, Morbius the Living Vampire, Ghost Rider, Son-of-Satan, Dracula, Satana, Blade, and even ended up turning one of the X-Men into a furry monster. This tone seeped into Dr. Strange too.

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Monstress: An Interview with Marjorie Liu

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Marj-Monstress-Issue-1-Cover-smallOn November 4th, Image launched a new comic series called Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. Liu is already well known as a New York Times Bestselling novelist, and from her work on Marvel titles such as Wolverine, X-23, Dark Wolverine, and Astonishing X-Men. I had a chance to interview Marjorie about Monstress.

Derek Kunsken: I read Monstress, and I have to say I was absolutely floored by how beautiful it is. I’ve seen Sana Takeda’s work with you on X-23, but it seems like all the stops were pulled out here. Not only that, the setting is original and the theme of inhumanity reminds me of Scott Snyder’s Wytches.

Marjorie Liu: You’re so kind. I’ve also been floored by Sana’s work on this book. I had a vision, I knew what I wanted Monstress to look like — but Sana took those ideas and just made them explode on the page. Her character designs, too, totally altered the story. I had one idea of what the book was going to be about — and then I saw what the monster looked like — and everything changed in that moment. For the better.

The revelations in the world of Monstress feel both fast and slow, drinking from the firehose, but piling up the questions on the side. Maika seems to be neither fully human nor Arcanic. Can you talk about Maika as an outcast character?

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The Great Savage Sword Re-Read: Vol. 1

Saturday, November 14th, 2015 | Posted by John R. Fultz


The Savage Sword of Conan Vol. 1. Cover art by Boris Vallejo.

The Savage Sword of Conan is arguably the single greatest publication the Sword and Sorcery genre has ever seen. Spawned by the massive popularity of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian color comic which launched in 1970, Savage Sword was a black-and-white Marvel Magazine whose first issue appeared in 1974.

The new format freed creators from the restrictions of the Comics Code Authority, which constrained Conan’s full-color adventures to all-ages entertainment. The violence, gore, and lurid themes of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan tales would no longer be censored by enforced comic-book morality. Now readers of the Cimmerian’s adventures would get to know the real Conan and the real Hyborian Age — in all their blood-spattered, head-lopping, breast-heaving glory.

I was 8 years old when I bought my first issue.

It was early 1978 and my family had just moved from Fort Knox to Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Moving to that neighborhood changed my life for many reasons, but one of the most significant was the presence of the Blue Bird Foodmart at the bottom of the hill. For the first 7 years of my life I was a small-town kid who only got exposed to comics when my parents/grandparents took me to a store somewhere. Now I could walk down the hill to a store that sold comics, magazines, and novels. The problem was that as an 8-year-old comics fan I had barely any money to spend on all those great books.

On that day in ’78, I could have chosen the latest issue of Creepy, Eerie, Heavy Metal, or any number of Marvel or DC comics. But it was Savage Sword of Conan #28 that caught my eye. Comics went for 35 cents apiece in those days, but here was an extra-thick “comic” with an amazing Earl Norem painted cover. For one whole dollar, it offered four times as many pages and featured the most realistic sword-fights and battles I had ever seen, complete with beheadings, guttings, and stabs in the back. The interior art was by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala, a legendary penciller-inker team, and I had never seen anything like it.

Needless to say, it blew my little mind and left me hungry for more tales of Conan…

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Forbes on the Tragic Failure of Jem And The Holograms

Monday, October 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Jem And The Holograms-smallLast week Box Office Mojo reported that Guillermo del Toro’s gothic horror film Crimson Peak “crashed and burned into 2,984 theaters to the tune of an estimated $12.8 million.” So what did it make of Jem And The Holograms‘ historically bad take of one-tenth of that total this weekend, $1.3 million from 2,413 theaters? It calls it one of “the year’s biggest flops… the fourth worst opening for a film in more than 2,000 theaters.”

Jem And The Holograms was a much-loved 80s cartoon produced by Hasbro, Marvel, and Sunbow (the same team behind G.I. Joe and Transformers). Featuring the plucky Jerrica Benton, whose father left her virtually flawless hologram technology that allowed her to disguise herself as a beautiful pop singer, Jem was the brainchild of comics writer Christy Marx (Sisterhood of Steel, Conan, Red Sonja). Forbes writer Scott Mendelson sees the massive failure of the live-action version as a genuine tragedy.

The film took a source material that is over-the-top colorful and over-the-top exciting, filled with larger-than-life characters and musically-charged action sequences where Jem and her friends had to both be kick-ass rock stars and kick-ass crime fighters at the same time, and made a toned-down, muted, and overly patronizing “young girl gets in over her head due to fame and artistic success and forgets what matters” fable that basically penalized its young heroes for wanting and achieving success and power…

It was the kind of film that Josie and the Pussycats spoofed a decade ago, and basically operated as a dark-n-gritty origin story that spent the entire film building up to the possibility of maybe seeing a Jem movie that Jem fans wanted to see the first time out in a would-be sequel. Okay, so a cheap film that spit on the source material bombed, who cares right? Well, here’s the rub: The overriding message of Jem and the Holograms is that a girl-centric action cartoon from the 1980′s doesn’t deserve or justify even 5% of the resources given without a second thought to boy-centric properties cashing in on 80′s nostalgia.

Read the complete article here.

Making Comics and Animated Shorts: Ian McGinty and Welcome to Showside

Saturday, October 24th, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

welcome-to-showsideComic artist Ian McGinty has worked on Adventure Time, Hello Kitty, Fraggle Rock and many other titles, for publishers such as Archaia, BOOM!, Dynamite and now Z2. Ian is making his creator-owned debut with Welcome to Showside at Z2 Comics 28 October, 2015.

Not only that, but Welcome to Showside has also been developed into an animated series, with McGinty serving as showrunner and one of the voice actors. I wanted to e-interview Ian to chat about his successes.

Thanks for the chance to chat, Ian! You must be crazy busy in these last days of October!

Haha, yeah it’s definitely been pretty insane on this end, but it’s also been super rad and exciting to see everything coming together. A lot of hard work on many people’s parts have gone into Welcome to Showside, both the comic and the animated show, and to finally be seeing the end result, it’s like, damn, you know? I never expected such a great response from people, and it’s still sort of sinking in.

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Dr. Strange, Part I: Establishing the Mythos: Master of the Mystic Arts in The Lee-Ditko Era

Saturday, October 10th, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

dr strange 1

The brilliant, eerie worlds of Dr. Strange.

I’ve always liked Dr. Strange. Issue #43 was one of the first four comics my mother gave me in 1980. Stephen Strange is a lonely, stoic hero whose scope of danger and action is nearly always cosmic, and whose inner demons are as powerful as anything he faces with magic.

By the time I was finishing high school, my collection had grown to the point that I had a pretty good grip on his adventures from his first appearance in 1963 to his loss of everything in the late 80s.

Our fearless leader John O’Neill blogged recently about the news of the Dr. Strange movie. I don’t know how I feel about the movie — I have a lot of trouble with disappointing adaptations, but like I did with the Adam Warlock books, I’d like to take a retrospective look on my favorite comic sorcerer.

In my head, the classic Dr. Strange can be broken into three periods. In this post, I’ll look at the establishment of the Dr. Strange mythos in the Lee-Ditko era (roughly Strange Tales #130-#141).

In the early 1960s, there were essentially two creative engines at Marvel. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had created Thor, the Hulk, the X-Men, Iron Man, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko had created Spider-Man.

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