Friday, July 15, 2005


Today's Comic Art Friday is brought to you by the Weather Channel. They tell me we're in for another day for scorching heat here in beautiful Wine Country.

Speaking of beautiful, feast your eyes on this spectacular artwork by the King of Commissions (I stole that title from my friend Damon, but I'm certain he won't mind), Geof Isherwood. For Father's Day this year, KJ and KM gave me a gift certificate to commission a new piece of art. I knew immediately what I had in mind, and I didn't think twice before asking Geof to create a scenario featuring Storm of the X-Men and Michael Moorcock's fantasy adventurer Elric of Melniboné. The connection? Elric's mystic black sword is named Stormbringer.

For those of you thinking that Elric isn't exactly a superhero, that's true enough in the strictest sense. The character does, however, have a lengthy history in comics, dating back at least to the early 1980s, when both First Comics and Marvel introduced the albino swordsman to the sequential graphics medium. More recently, Elric returned to the four-color page last year in a DC series scripted by Moorcock himself, with illustrations by the equally legendary Walter Simonson.

I first discovered Elric in Moorcock's original novels back in the '70s, when I went through a lengthy period reading every sword-and-sorcery book I could get my fingers on. Although I read voraciously in the genre, Elric was always my favorite heroic fantasy character, along with Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Elric was appealing in that, as an albino, he wasn't physically powerful — the real strength was in the runeblade Stormbringer — and that he was always rather ambivalent about the whole hero business. He was dour and conflicted and often didn't emerge victorious — traits with which a teenaged kid could definitely relate. These qualities were intentionally built into Moorcock's concept, as his intention was to use Elric to stand the conventions of heroic fantasy on their collective ear.

The Elric novels were but one component of a sprawling fantasy cycle concocted by author Moorcock, known as the Eternal Champion saga. The Eternal Champion, which represented the never-ending struggle between good and evil, also appeared in Moorcock's comedic Dancers at the End of Time stories and science fiction novels about superspy Jerry Cornelius.

Moorcock also earned serious cred with me by writing several songs for one of my favorite rock bands during my adolescent years, Blue Öyster Cult. (I know what you're thinking: How did you progress from listening to Blue Öyster Cult albums to singing in a barbershop quartet? Hey, I am nothing if not diverse.) One of Moorcock's BÖC numbers, "Black Blade" (from the album gloriously entitled Cultosaurus Erectus), is specifically about Elric and Stormbringer.

It's been 20 years or more since I last picked up an Elric novel. But Geof Isherwood's dazzling take on the character sure brings the memories home.

A comment about Storm's unusual costume in this artwork. When I proposed this scenario to Geof, he asked if I would mind him using a character design for Storm based on Barry Windsor-Smith's graphic novel Adastra in Africa. Windsor-Smith (whose stylish art first gained recognition in the early '70s on Marvel's adaptation of Robert E. Howard's heroic fantasy character, Conan the Barbarian) originally created the Adastra story as a miniseries vehicle for Storm. The Powers That Be at Marvel, however, were uncomfortable with some of the ideas BWS incorporated (specifically, Marvel's editors thought the storyline glorified suicide) and put the kibosh on the deal, as Ben Grimm might put it. Windsor-Smith changed the lead character from Storm to a new heroine called Adastra and published the book at Fantagraphics, to wide acclaim.

Knowing that Geof is a great admirer of Windsor-Smith's work, I was delighted with his suggestion, knowing that he'd come up with something truly special. And he did. His artwork certainly has hints and whispers of Barry Windsor-Smith, but the realization is pure Isherwood.

So ends Comic Art Friday for this week. Watch out for lightning.

0 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Post a Comment

<< Home