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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 14: Conan #5

Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Conan #5, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated June 2004. Enjoy!

'Take it offffff!'

So, Kurt Busiek wrote this. Dave Stewart colored it. Richard Starkings and his minions at Comicraft lettered it. But who drew it? According to the credits, Thomas Yeates did layouts and backgrounds on this issue, while Cary Nord “pencilled” it. Does that mean that Yeates put in the sandstone bricks, did a sketch of Conan and the lions, and then Nord finished the figures before Yeates inked them (Yeates is listed as inker). Kurt Busiek might know. Maybe he’ll stop by to tell us!

Anyway, this is a nice, dramatic first page. The font of the title is standard “sword-and-sorcery” lettering (I don’t know if Starkings invented it, but it’s fairly common in comics), and the green coloring is an interesting touch. Conan stands in the foreground, all coiled and tense, ready to strike. His sword pulls our eyes back to the lions, who advance on him menacingly. The nice thing about the page is that it’s all potential energy – even the lions seem frozen (they’re “moving,” of course, and of course comics show static images, but I hope you know what I mean), as if they’re all waiting for a cue. They get the cue on the next page, but a page that is wound like a spring is a nice way to begin an issue. And check out Conan’s left hand – it’s huge! What the hell?

One of the fascinating things about the narration is the way Starkings (or his minions) letter it. I don’t know if this was Busiek’s suggestion or Starkings’ innovation, but it’s like this throughout the issue (and the series, as a matter of fact): it appears in typeface. The lettering is incongruous in Conan’s world, of course, but it hearkens back to Conan’s pulp roots in Robert Howard’s typewriter. It’s a nice trick that isn’t obvious but still noticeable. Busiek’s script is interesting, too – Conan doesn’t know lions, but he describes them as someone might describe Conan himself – “swift and strong, with wild manes of hair around their heads.” Small details like this are what make comics fun to read.

So that’s the first page of a comic that features Conan fighting lions, torture, more fighting, suicides, and a slave revolt. What more could you ask for?

Next: It started as a webcomic, but I’m using it anyway! Webcomics have first pages, right?


There’s no inker; it was colored from pencils.

Cary was having trouble with layouts at the time, so Tom did loose storytelling layouts, on typing paper or something; I only ever saw scans.

Cary then took a piece of Bristol board, drew the main elements in tight pencil, changing whatever he felt like from Tom’s layout along the way (or what Scott Allie and I suggested changing; there were a lot of changes from initial layout to penciled page). Then Tom would go in and tight-pencil background elements while Cary worked on the next batch of pages.

And then Dave would color from the pencils.

On this page, that means Cary drew Conan and the lions, though their positioning may or may not have had much to do with what Tom laid out — it looks more like one of my camera-angle suggestions, but at this date I can’t be sure. And he’d have roughly indicated the floor and the arch, and Tom would have tightened that up.

[Later, when Tom’s name disappears from the layout credits, I laid the book out for about 8 issues or so, doing really primitive stick-figure layouts. But they were really all Cary needed, and once he got used to the rhythm of how I told a story, he said, “Okay, I got it,” and took over the whole job himself. It was more a mental block than anything else; figuring out the storytelling had been slowing him down.]

As for the lettering, yeah, that was my suggestion, and that’s why.


That run of Conan had a very unique look. Which is more than I can say for most modern comics, which look like they’re cloned from each other on the computer.

This series is my favorite example of comics art colored from non-inked pencils. And the writing was excellent, too. Another feather in your cap, Kurt!

But I do prefer my comics inked (by hand) by an artist who knows how (and when) to vary the line-weight with his sable brush. But not every inker can handle a brush as well as Joe Sinnott or Murphy Anderson… or Jaime Hernandez (to name somebody more contemporary).

Greg: Your comment that the lettering “appears in typeface” makes me scratch my head. Every single comic lettered on the computer appears in a typeface. I think what you were trying to say is that a “typewriter font” was chosen. An excellent choice, too.

I read this earlier today, but wanted to check back to see if Kurt would stop by – and of course he did! Thanks for the info, as always! :)

This does look cool, very pulp fiction cover feel. If that’s what Nord needed, it ended up serving the story well, at least. Nice tension to the page, the angle is cool. Bravo to all involved.

Kurt: Thanks for the clarification. Yeates is listed as inker in the front of the trade, but I certainly should have recognized that this was colored directly from pencils. I hope I’m not that dim! Thanks again for a peek behind the curtain – it’s always appreciated.

Nigel: Yeah, my bad. “Typewriter font” is what I was going for, if that’s an “official” font.

In the front of the Dark Horse trade, at least, there’s no inker credit — it just says that the artists are Nord and Yeates (and that the color artist is Stewart), and doesn’t specify further.

As for the font, there are lots of different typewriter fonts, and this one doubtless has a specific name (but Richard modified it, dirtying it up more and knocking a couple of letters out of alignment), but “typewriter font” will probably do. It’s not like we know the name of the dialogue font, either.

Kurt: Dang, now I have to go look at the credits. I don’t know why I thought Yeates inked it, unless I’m just that dim! Wait … that’s probably it! :)

My wife and I are both huge fans of this Conan series and it’s always one of the first books I will grab off my shelf if someone tells me they are looking for something to read. I cannot possibly recommend it highly enough to anyone who hasn’t read it. It may be heresy but I would say this is the best ever version of Conan even including the movies and original stories.

[…] Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 14: Conan #5Comic Book Resourcesby Greg Burgas Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today's page is from Conan #5, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated June 2004. Enjoy! So, Kurt Busiek wrote this. Dave Stewart colored it. … […]

As soon as I read that Tom Yeates did those layouts, I immediately noticed how similar Conan’s pose is to the Swamp Thing pose on the cover of Swamp Thing #21 (The Anatomy Lesson), albeit reversed.

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