King-Size Conan The Barbarian #1, 1973, Marvel Comics, Cover by Barry Windsor-Smith.
The POP Retro Cover Of The Week continues its celebration and examination of iconic comic covers from the 1970s through the 2000s, this week returning to the Seventies, a decade when readers still bought comics on squeaky spinner racks, and Marvel cranked out Giant-Size and King-Size editions featuring both new stories and reprints.
One of these special, rare King-Size editions featured a cover by Conan’s first artist at Marvel, the very different, very talented Barry Windsor-Smith (he went by Barry Smith early in his career, as his beautifully decorative signature logo indicates). Of the many iconic Conan poses and covers BWS produced, the cover for King-Size Conan The Barbarian #1 stands out the most to me.
Why? The details. The illustration is full of tiny, intricate work: blood spatter on his skin, leaves of grass, pebbles in the stream, the ripples around his ankles, the chainmail armor scales…
Then there are the faces. Conan’s “Want some?” glare is scary enough, but 11-year old me was absolutely creeped out by the death stare of the corpse in the stream…looking right at me. Brrrr.
The trade dress (the title logo, publisher info, issue number, etc.) are compartmentalized and restricted to the top of the cover, with only a single balloon to hype the contents. It was unusual for cover in this time to have so little clutter on the cover, allowing the powerful illustration room to “be,” with no other distraction or interruption. The blank sky behind Conan emphasizes him even more.
All this restraint allows the details to shine, and makes this POP Retro Cover Of The Week a masterpiece of cover art in my eyes.
Next week: A cover from the Bronze ‘80s!