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GNR Update -- Conan: the Tower of the Elephant

I've just updated with a review of Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord's Conan: The Tower Of The Elephant And Other Stories

Here's an excerpt:

What really sets this version of Conan apart from the rest, though -- and apart from almost any other action/adventure comic book being published today -- is the mind-eatingly splendid artwork. That sort of thing gets said a lot, by graphic novel reviewers, when they're talking about fantasy books. Usually, it means that the artwork is the kind of overly-rendered, photorealistic, pose-centric crap that you see on the covers of heavy metal albums and in posters for big budget fantasy movies. That's not what this artwork is like at all. It's something I've never seen before: scribbly, deliberately unfinished-looking, on the lowest level (the figure and the line), and yet gussied up at the highest level with the latest mainstream comics coloring techniques and painterly washes. It's a strange, tense marriage of styles that works very well. As I mentioned earlier, there's a bit of Kubert's Tarzan to Nord's Conan, but where Kubert puts his ink line in the forefront, making everything all about the line, Nord allows his line to fall to the back, in favor of pure shape and action, when necessary. In some places, the coloring by Dave Stewart swallows the line entirely, giving the characters and the settings a carved-in-soap kind of look. In other places, you get the sense that there was a tightly-pencilled line, which has been covered over by the coloring, and then one or both of the artists came back in with a Sharpie to just touch up a couple of key details with a thin black squiggle. I'm not sure if that was the technique or not, and I'm sure I'm not describing it well enough -- suffice it to say that the style is distinctive and well-done. Together, Nord and Stewart have managed to breathe visual life into a character and an idiom that had become tired and old under the influence of geeky fan-favorites like Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor-Smith, and John Buscema. I'm not saying that these artists weren't masters -- they were great, each in his own way -- but that's precisely the problem: they were masters. Their vision of the character and the world, bastardized by imitators and by imitators of imitators, like fifth and sixth generation mimeographs, had to be blasted out of our brains before we could actually "see" Conan again, with fresh eyes. Nord and Stewart have done that. This Conan is alive: he's funny (his body language, I should say, is witty), he's vicious, and he's something else entirely. The fact that, toward the end of the book, another great fan-favorite, Michael Wm. Kaluta, actually draws a longish sequence in the middle of a story, in a completely different style, without putting the younger and less-well-known artists of the rest of the story to shame, or jarring us in any way, is another testament to their accomplishment.


Artwork by Cary Nord and Dave Stewart
© 2006 Conan Properties International LLC the rest of the review