Barry Windsor-Smith Portrait
Continuing the production of new portraits for Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook, whose subjects are largely chosen of late by a need for biographical images in their Wikipedia articles, a new Barry Windsor-Smith portrait now joins the sketchbook.
Sometime during the summer of 1976 I was taking a break from work at Continuity to read a Dr. Strange story in Marvel Premiere #3, from 1972. It was illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith and inked by Dan Adkins, towards the end of Barry’s memorable run on Conan the Barbarian.
The story begins with Dr. Strange brooding the streets of New York with a feeling of impending peril all around.
I remember finishing the opening sequence with a sense of exhaustion from reading it, which strangely identified with how Dr. Strange felt in the story. It wasn’t necessarily the classic Stan Lee text which caused it, but rather the very moody imagery. I found myself going back over it to try to understand how Barry had pulled off such a excellent effect on the reader. What struck me most about it was how in several key panels, the movement was directed from right to left, against the natural reading flow.
Barry had broken a cardinal rule of storytelling about movement in panels needing to be from left to right, so the composition would remain harmonious with the direction the eye traveled while reading. He did this in order to create a new rule, that breaking the first rule contributes to a feeling of disharmony; or the feeling of impending doom that Dr. Strange had throughout this sequence. A reader has to struggle with trying to move on to the next panel, when the present one is pointing them backwards to the previous one. In this case, it resonated with, and amplified the discomfort that the Dr. Strange was experiencing in the story itself.
Some time later during a First Friday gathering at The Studio, I mentioned to Barry the effect his storytelling in that issue had on me. I asked him about his use of contrary movement in the opening sequence. He responded with enthusiasm that someone had noticed what he’d done, saying it’s the first time anyone mentioned this detail to him. I’m still not certain today if Barry didn’t just say that so I’d feel good about having noticed it.
This happened only a few years after the comic book appeared and it was still during the early period of fandom, long before the information super-highway turned the art of comics reviews into an avalanche of analysis. So I think it’s not far fetched that I might have been the first one to mention it to him, though not at all likely the first to have noticed it. This particular issue has received critical acclaim from reviewers on the web. It’s also become a popular back issue that brings a hefty price on the market. A quick eBay search shows almost a hundred copies currently being sold. In one such listing, for a graded CGC issue, the bidding is at $469 as of this writing, with more than 15 days to go till the auction closes.
Barry and I connected again after my long disengagement from the comics scene in the 1980′s. Sometime around 1995, in the aftermath of industry news about my case for Ms. Mystic being dismissed due to the Statute of Limitations, Barry contacted me by email to offer some support. It wasn’t just a short email communique. Barry, who never seemed to do anything half-heartedly, sent an extensive letter with much good advice and life-philosophy, coming from a friend whose concern could be felt through every byte of the email. It was the dawn of a new age of communication that we hadn’t dreamed would descend upon us so quickly back in the mid-1970′s. Last year we connected again by email over his Facebook page, that he didn’t seem too happy about spending much time with. I’ve since also cut down presence on mine. But it’s all helped to catch up on old friends, and compensate for being out of touch over the years. And especially seeing how the colleague’s work developed. Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Internet Portfolio” remains one of the more inspiring and compelling legacies of the comics medium. His Wikipedia biography tells the story quite well, as does the bio on his own web site.
Though there’s hardly a specimen of Barry’s art that’s not a memorable creation onto itself, there’s something especially compelling about his project Rune, done with Malibu in 1994. The protagonist he developed allowed Barry to let loose with a more fluid and playful drawing approach, which seemed to have an effect on everything else as well. Machine Man, Weapon-X and Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller have become exquisite masterpieces of illustration and graphic narrative, as does nearly everything Barry Windsor-Smith touches. Below is a select gallery, with much gratitude to our friend Joe at Grantbridge Street and other Misadventures. All images are copyright by their respective owners.