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CSBG Archive

Barry Windsor-Smith’s Back Pages

Every day this month I will share with you the first (at least as far as I know) U.S. professional work by a notable comic book creator. Here is an archive of the creators who have been featured so far.

Today’s featured creator is Barry Windsor-Smith!


After first coming to prominence as the artist on the Conan the Barbarian comic for Marvel during the 1970s, Barry Windsor-Smith went on to create a number of stunning pieces of comic book work, especially as his style got more and more ornate as time went by. A wonderful storyteller as an artist, Windsor-Smith eventually took his talents to the writing side of things, as well.

When Windsor-Smith started in comics, though, he was barely 20 years old in late 1968. His first assignment was February 1969’s X-Men #53…

The next month, he also drew Daredevil #50…

Eventually he was forced to return to his home country of the United Kingdom, but his career kept going and a couple of years later, Conan hit big and he became a household name (well, at least in households that know comic book artists).


Wow, those X-Men pages are a bit rough. He came a long way pretty quick after that. And you can actually see it a bit in his early Conan issues as well, but it’s interesting how Kirbyesque his style was at first.

Also, I had no idea the X-Men ever fought Blastaar. Clearly I have some Essential reading to do.

I guess the word we are looking for is “Kirby clone”. And indeed it was surprising to see that the page is supposed to be X-Men but the first picture is about Blastaar…

I think it’s less that Smith started as a Kirby clone and more that Marvel’s inkers at the time tended to adopt the Joe Sinott “more black! more ink!” style. Certainly Smith was influenced by Kirby, but we would see more of Smith’s recognizable tendencies without the heavy black inks drowning him out.

Well, it’s not surprising in the slightest that a 20-year-old in the late sixties would ape Kirby’s style, just as most of the Back Pages we’ve seen of artists that got their start in the nineties were Image clones (most of them aping Jim Lee)

Didn’t he supposedly draw one of these comics while sitting on park benches in New York? His own style started showing through in his Avengers issues, especially #100.

I was going to mention the resemblense to Kirby’s work as well…but instead I’ll say…..My Goodness, Marvel Girl’s skirt is short!!!

Tom Fitzpatrick

March 17, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Y’know, I thought Conan was BWS’ first work. Well, I guessed wrong, but I wouldn’t have recognized that as his trademark art.

That’s quite an improvement there! ;-)

Inker or not, all those black cosmic dots are what really gives the X-Men the groovy Kirby feel.
This is a great column

I wonder though – its almost a bit unfair to the artists. The reader reactions seem to be hey this person wasn’t that good yet or hadn’t developed their style. But maybe they chose to draw aping the era’s popular artists for job security, or from editorial pressure real or imagined. Sort of like a young musician doing covers of popular current songs.

BWS was and is avowedly huge fan of Kirby. There is no doubt that when he broke into the business he was deliberately, and happily, channeling, Kirby. All of Smith’s early comic efforts, share the look of these pages. It wasn’t until the first several issues of Conan that we would see him begin to break away and follow his own muse. But as mentioned, the man still today speaks reverently about Jack Kirby

That reminds me; it always bugs me a bit when they do flashbacks to that era of the X-Men and give them square belt buckles instead of the groovy top-heavy design shown here. It’s like someone decided they really hated that design, and decided they had to be eliminated even from past continuity.

[…] been posting a new month-long series that examines the first US pro comic work by notable creators! His latest post is a look at the incredible Barry Windsor-Smith back in 1968 when he was just 20 years old and just Barry Smith. Go enjoy the nascent artwork of […]

Man-aged? Took me three reads of that Daredevil panel to work out that didn’t mean ‘aged till he was a man’.

Windsor-Smith said it himself in an interview, to paraphrase: At the time, when I (BWS) thought comics, I thought Kirby, it was an artistic revelations a few years later when I realized that I could draw in other styles as well.

He cloned Kirby because that is where his artistic sensibilities were at the time. You can’t blame the inkers, especially where it looks like he is inking himself.

…in other work at the time, obviously not here.

Pete Woodhouse

March 18, 2011 at 8:02 am

In X-Men #53, I guess inker “Michael Dee” is Windsor-Smith’s pseudonym? Steranko also started out as a Kirby clone but soon found his own style too. Marvel encouraged their 60s (and the practice went into the 70s: look at Milgrom, Wilson, Pollard etc) artists just to ape Kirby as the House Style.

Also happened with Adams 70s (Buckler, Byrne, Bill Sienkiewicz early works), & as people have said, Lee in the 90s. Did it happen as much with Byrne in the 80s, I dunno.

"O" the Humanatee!

March 18, 2011 at 8:42 am

According to the Grand Comics Database, “Michael Dee” was Mike Esposito (http://www.comics.org/issue/22543/). Although I’ve often heard that Marvel encouraged artists, at one time, to draw in the Kirby style, I’m not aware that anything similar went on with Adams. I think Adams, who was “revolutionary” in his day, was just tremendously influential on a lot of younger artists. However, I’d qualify Pete Woodhouse’s remarks by saying that early Byrne doesn’t seem very Adams-like to me at all: his work on Iron Fist, X-Men, and especially his Charlton stuff has a charming cartoony quality that I quite enjoyed. And Buckler is a self-admitted chameleon, although he has certain “tics” that usually show through. His FF stuff was clearly an attempt to do Kirby, and if you read his interview in Comic Book Artist #7 (reprinted in Comic Book Artist Collection Vol. 3), you can even see him imitating Kubert in a Tarzan tryout page.

A year or two before these stories BWS had done pin-up pages for the back covers of Marvel’s British reprint weeklies – quite crudely drawn and uncredited, but visibly his work.

To those saying the Kirby look is a result of the inker, that’s not true. Smith has himself said he started off as a “less than skillful” Kirby imitator (his words). Some artists were coached to imitate Kirby as the house style, but Smith was actually one of the first fan-turned-pro artists, (the previous generation of superhero artists didn’t grow up as fans of superhero comics), so he already arrived fully-formed as a Kirby clone, rather than other artists who had to alter their existing styles into the Kirby mold.

An interesting tidbit according to Wikipedia. The Rage of Blastaar story excerpted above, Smith didn’t have a studio and was just evicted from his hotel, so he drew most of the story while sitting on park benches.

Reading these comics and other early BWS as a kid, I didn’t like his art, and I realise now that one reason was because he drew nearly everyone as having the same-shaped head, with a crown like a lightbulb and a symmetrically square jaw.

I love those early BWS comics.they oozed Kirby,but that is what Marvel wanted.They would have loved to have a Kirby-clone that could have endured.Steranko,Buckler,BWS and I am sure,others started that way,but evolved as artists do.Even early Conan’s were very Kirbyesque.He did turn into a classic artist of his own during his Conan run,as did Sternako.Buckler…not so much.

Wow, imagine going from Kirby classic to Weapon X which (to me) is the definitive Wolverine origin. Great all around.

Forget the Kirby clone style Smith used … how bad is the WRITING in that X-Men sample? Ugh.

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