Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Comics Review: Bring on the Barbarians -- Blackmark

I decided to take a quick break after that long evaluation I wrote on Monday about Comic Collector Live. So I decided to write a review of the graphic novel I'm currently reading (well, technically re-reading, but I'll explain that shortly. But first, some background about my reading habits.

I have to be in the mood to read something and enjoy it.

I know that's not odd and most people would say the same thing about their own reading/viewing tastes. In my case, though, those moods can be long and far between. Like years between. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s I dove deep into classic Disney characters like Donald Duck, Uncle Srooge and Mickey Mouse. I bought -- and devoured -- hundreds of classic comics by Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson. If you're not familiar with their work, you really do owe it to yourself to pick up one of the great collections out there and expand your mind with some of the best comic book art ever put to paper. This particular obsession ran for about 7-10 years, then I kind of moved on (oh, I still like the stuff, but now I mostly reread what I've already got, rather than acquiring new material).

Right now you might say I'm in the middle of an Archie Comics bender. This one's been going on for a while longer, although lately I've been happily picking up some of the reprints they are doing for Archie Comics' 70th anniversary. How does this "getting in the mood" stuff figure into this tale? Read on, true believer... read on!

What I'm reading now: Blackmark
Image courtesy of Cap'n's Comics.
While cataloging my comic books, I've been more than a little surprised by how many barbarian comics I have. So many so, that I've actually dedicated a short box to the miscellaneous issues I've got of Kull, John Carter of Mars (by the time you read this I should have seen the movie!), Ka-Zar, Iron Jaw, Wulf, Beowulf, Arak, Almuric, and of course Conan and The Warlord. And then there is the classic, unfinished epic that I am now reading by the legendary Gil Kane: Blackmark.

I hope I don't have to tell you who Gil Kane is. Suffice to say, he's one of THE masters of comic book art and is justly famous for his ground-breaking work for DC, Marvel and other publishers. He's also the one who designed the classic costumes of Hal Jordan's Green Lantern and Ray Palmer's The Atom.

Blackmark is an almost legendary sword & sorcery/sci-fi epic that Gil Kane originally published in paperback back in 1971. He had a contract with Bantam books to produce an 8-issue series that would mark the humble-but-unique origins of a young man from his being sired through his journey from slave to rebel leader to gladiator to king of a ravaged, post-apocalyptic world. If it had been finished, it would have been a grand epic. But, alas, only one-quarter of it was ever completed. In its shortsightedness, Bantam only published the first book and then pulled the plug while the second issue was finished. It took a few years for the second volume to see print in the pages of Marvel Premier, which is where I saw this raven-haired, wild-eyed conqueror for the first time.

This, as it turns out, was the second chapter of this epic. It was published in late 1979, although to be honest, I don't think I discovered it until around 1986 or '87 in a bargain bin at Rita's Fantasy Shop in El Paso, Texas.

The magazine was oddly formatted and that affected my interest in it at the time. Marvel and Kane had split the vertical pages of the paperback art up into separate panels and Kan even added some artwork to fill the space of the more rectangular pages of the magazine. Coupled with the fact that the art had been blown up quit a bit (this produced thick lines and very coarse zip-a-tone shading), the entire experience was less than idea.

I think I skimmed it at the time, enough to remember some of the details, but not all. That's why, reading it now, it's almost as though I'm reading it again for the first time.

So, years pass and it's 2002. For the 30th anniversary of the original publication of Blackmark, those great guys over at Fantagraphics Books reprint a special edition in a 6x9 inch trade paperback with crisp white paper. This size, as they say in the essay at the rear of the book, is a nice compromise between the original paperback size and a new size that increases the size of the art and text without making the zip-a-tones overpowering or making the line art too thick and coarse. And, for the first time ever, they reprint the second chapter, "The Mind Demons," in its original format for the first time. The essay in the reprint even has a few comparison images that show how Kane reformatted this book for the magazine version.

So... I bought the book in 2002. And I read the essay. And I put it on a shelf for 10 years. I didn't open it again until last week.

Yup, I knew I would want to get to this someday, but that day wasn't until recently when (I guess) all the hubub about the John Carter movie and finding all my old barbarian comics (I have more than I thought I did) got me in the mood to read this for "the first time." See, I told you that stuff I wrote about way up there would tie in eventually. So now I'm in the mood to read this and enjoy it.

And enjoy it, I am! And we'll get into the specifics of why next week (yeah, I know... I'm a blog tease).


By the way, there are some fantastic Gil Kane Blackmark images over at Cap'n's Comics: You really should do yourself a favor and cruise on by to take a look.

Comics Talk returns Mon. with a discussion of Comic Base
Wed. I'll complete my review of Blackmark
And be sure to swing by for my rant about why I hate to buy groceries at night!


  1. I always liked the King Conan series, myself. And The Warlord. Skartaris and Hyboria, the two coolest places ever.

  2. I was a HUGE fan of Mike Grell's run on Warlord. Even though Skartaris was just a rewarmed Pelucidar, it was very cool. And I also really liked the King Conan series, as well as the later Kull books. I liked the politics and intrigue of those particular series.

  3. Way cool-Can't wait for part two-I just want to add that the Fantagraphics edition has a wonderful "feel" (texture) to the covers

  4. I completely agree with you. The cover texture has a very nice feel to it. In general, is a really great book.