Barbaric Beauty: The Art of Barry Windsor-Smith
Born on May 25, 1949, Barry Windsor-Smith brought a delicate beauty to even the most violent comics, and visually defined Conan the Barbarian for a generation. A Londoner by birth, Windsor-Smith got his start drawing pin-ups for British reprints of Marvel Comics. In 1968, at the age of 19, he flew to New York to meet with Stan Lee about getting real work for Marvel. At the time, he was drawing in a faux-Jack Kirby style, which was exactly what Marvel was looking for in a fill-in artist. This led to issues here and there of Avengers, Daredevil, and X-Men, among other books.
But it was in the 1970s that he really came into his own, when he became the first penciller on Marvel's adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian. Roy Thomas was the book's writer, although Windsor-Smith made story contributions along the way. During this same period, he also penciled a handful of "Kazar, Lord of the Jungle" stories for Marvel's Astonishing Tales, which are less well-known but display a similar flair for the fantastic.
Windsor-Smith's Conan is among the best-looking comics of the Bronze Age. He never shied away from the brutality of the Barbarian's world, but he always found the beauty in the settings and in the human forms --- both male and female --- that were so frequently on display. As he and Thomas adapted Howard's stories as well as creating new ones, Windsor-Smith created the visual iconography not just for Conan, but also for Red Sonja, and even Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné.
After Conan made him a legend, Windsor-Smith returned to X-Men in the '80s, writing four issues spaced about a year apart. His depiction of Storm in the "Lifedeath" stories (Uncanny X-Men #186 and 198) contributed greatly to that character. This led to a much-hyped story in Marvel Comics Presents, in which he told the previously unrevealed story of how Wolverine was implanted with adamantium by nefarious Canadian scientists.
In the '90s Windsor-Smith was a major player in the original incarnation of Valiant Comics, with runs on Solar: Man of the Atom and Archer & Armstrong, and an important role in defining the look of the whole line. He also created Rune, an alien vampire, for Malibu's Ultraverse line.
Windsor-Smith never announced a retirement from comics, but he hasn't published new work since the turn of the century. Nevertheless, the art he produced in his prime stands up as some of the best in the history of comics, and won't be forgotten until society collapses and the age of barbarians returns. And even then, don't be surprised if his Conan comics are taken as holy texts.