Born Barry Smith, May 25, 1949, in London, England. Education: Attended art school in London, earning a degree in industrial design and illustration.
Home—Hudson Valley, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115. E-mail—[email protected]
Comic-book writer and artist. Marvel Comics, New York, NY, illustrator for comic-book series "X-Men," "Daredevil," "Fantastic Four," "Iron Man," "Machine Man," "Avengers," "Red Nails," and "Conan the Barbarian," 1967-74, illustrator for "Machine Man," "X-Men," "Iron Man," "Weapon X," and others, 1984-91; Valiant Comics, creative director, illustrator, and writer for comic-book series "Archer and Armstrong," "Eternal Warrior," "Solar," "Manowar" and "Unity"; Malibu Comics, co-creator of "Rune" series; Image Comics, illustrator of "Windstorm Rising," 1991-95; Dark Horse Comics, Milwaukie, OR, writer and illustrator of "Storyteller," 1995-97. Founder, owner, and sole artist for Gorblimey Press, 1974-85; founder of Windsor-Smith Studio. Has worked as a painter, designer, illustrator, and art director for films, including The Hand, with Oliver Stone; teacher of classical drawing.
Harvey Award for Excellence in Presentation nomination, and Comics Buyers Guide Fan Award for favorite comic book, both 1997, both for Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED; COMIC-BOOK COMPILATIONS
Wolverine: Weapon X, Marvel Comics (New York, NY), 1992.
Adastra in Africa, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 1999.
Opus, Volume 1, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 1999.
(With Roy Thomas) The Essential Conan: Volume 1, Marvel Comics (New York, NY), 2000.
Opus, Volume 2, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 2001.
Young Gods and Friends, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 2003.
(With Roy Thomas) The Chronicles of Conan, Volume 1: Tower of the Elephant and Other Stories, Volume 2: Rogues in the House and Other Stories, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2003.
Conan the Barbarian was adapted for a movie of the same title in 1982, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Work in Progress
The Monster, a graphic novel, for DC Comics; more volumes of his Opus biography and retrospective, for Fantagraphics.
"In the early 1970s," according to Library Journal contributor Chris Ryan, writer and illustrator Barry Windsor-Smith "took the comic book scene by storm, changing what comic book art could be." Windsor-Smith was one of the first to demonstrate that such illustration could actually be art, his work on the comic book Conan the Barbarian becoming legendary among fans for its attention to detail and its obvious glee in perspective and movement. Influenced by the work of legendary comics artist Jack Kirby, but not determined by it, Windsor-Smith's subtle blending of Pre-Raphaelite line and art nouveau motifs in other work give a romantic flair to his art that has become his signature. During the mid-1970s, after experiencing a life-altering consciousness-raising experience, Windsor-Smith gave up comics for fine art; a decade later, however, he was back at Marvel and other houses, working on comic-book series from "X-Men" to "Archer and Armstrong." With his five-volume Opus, the initial volume of which was published in 1999, he provided his many fans around the world with an illustrated memoir of his works and his philosophical/metaphysical path.
Growing up British
Born in London's East End in 1949, Barry Smith was the son of a working class family. As he noted in an online interview with Jon B. Cooke for TwoMorrows.com, he was "interested in all forms of graphic art since childhood." He began copying artists he admired, from Mad magazine cartoonists to the works of Leonardo da Vinci. "I perceived little difference between what is called fine art and what is considered otherwise," he told Cooke. Though a fan of British illustrators such as Frank Bellamy, he gravitated toward American imports, especially the work of Frank Kirby. The first Kirby comic he saw, The Double Life of Private Strong, was a revelation for the budding artist. "I'd never seen figure drawing like that before, dynamic, fluid, highly romanticized," Windsor-Smith told Cooke. "Kirby stunned me with that first issue's interior work." As an art student in the late 1960s, he saw Kirby's drawing for what it was, real art. Kirby's "only drawback was his simplistic and naive scripting style," Windsor-Smith further remarked to Cooke.
It was Kirby's work that drew the youngster to Marvel Comics, making him want to become part of that creative team. A sympathetic reply from an assistant to Marvel chief Stan Lee to a submission was enough to get Windsor-Smith on a plane bound for New York the summer of 1968, and he quickly found a place in the Marvel stable, his first production being "X-Men" number 53. He also worked on "Shield," "The Avengers," and "Daredevil" before being offered the job of penciling a new book for Marvel about a barbarian named Conan.
From Comics Art to Fine Art
Famous as a sword-and-sorcery character since his creation at the hands of pulp novelist Robert E. Howard in 1932, Conan the Barbarian made a revival in the 1960s in paperback format. Writer Roy Thomas was a fan of the books, and struck a deal with the Howard estate for the licensing of a comic book version. As Windsor-Smith explained to Cooke, the decision to choose him as the artist for the new book was in part influenced by the belief of Martin Goodman, founder of Marvel, that the project might be a failure. "He was against putting an important artist on a book that was probably going to tank," Windsor-Smith noted. From his first project at Marvel, Windsor-Smith had plotted his own stories, sometimes even writing dialogue in the margins for the scripters to use. Though the "Conan" stories followed in general arc the stories of Howard, Windsor-Smith also had a free hand working with Thomas on plot. From the outset, Windsor-Smith was "hooked" on Howard's style of writing, as he told Cooke.
From the very first issue of "Conan the Barbarian" in October, 1970, it was clear that Windsor-Smith was doing something novel with comic book art. As a contributor for The Greatest Comics noted, "Conan" "offered an alternative to the mainstream superheroes that dominated newsstands at that time, and showed readers and critics alike that there could be more to comic books than the usual cape-and-thighs stuff." According to Windsor-Smith, "Conan"—not being the traditional superhero or part of the usual Marvel universe of heroes—was "the right vehicle to create havoc with the old order, the status quo and its flabby trappings." His layout and design on that book brought him critical acclaim and industry awards, even though, as fans were quick to point out, on his first issue he had neglected to draw in nipples on his bare-chested barbarian.
Windsor-Smith stayed with the title for the first twenty-four issues, establishing the classic look of the comic with an exotic blending of Pre-Raphaelite decoration and the dynamism of Jack Kirby. Classic stories include "The Chamber of Darkness," "Red Nails," and the creation of a female counterpart to Conan with his farewell issue, "The Song of Red Sonja." This was his last book for the "Conan" series, as well as his last for Marvel for many years to come. One of the reasons for his decision to leave involved Marvel's policies toward writers and illustrators regarding copyright. Another factor was Windsor-Smith's general loss of interest in comic books. "I needed to be free of constraints and policies that were imposed by the dictates of creating entertainment for children," he told Cooke. Thus in 1974, he left Marvel and comic books to found his own publishing house, Gorblimey Press, and dedicated himself to fine art for the next decade. To make the break complete, he also changed his name from Barry Smith to Barry Windsor-Smith.
Returns to Comics
During his decade of retirement from comic book art, Windsor-Smith became known for his romantic artwork, with overtones of such master illustrators as Aubrey Beardsley, Howard Pyle, and Andrew Wyeth. Publishing his own works as well as the work of other illustrators and artists, Windsor-Smith finally decided that he wanted to tell stories again. For over a decade he had maintained no connection with the industry, however, and returning was not as easy as he thought it was going to be. At first he discovered that he had simply lost the skill to represent a story in a left-to-right cartoon manner. He had spent the last ten or eleven years learning how to really draw, and now it seemed that cartooning was lost to him. However, working for Marvel on installments for the "Machine Man" series, the knack slowly came back. He also worked on "X-Men" and "Weapon X" installments for Marvel on and off throughout the 1980s.
In 1991 Windsor-Smith joined Valiant Comics, and began working on books such as "Solar" and "Unity." There he began making a name for himself again with his intricate work on "Archer and Armstrong." For Malibu Comics, he also created "Rune." Then, working with Dark Horse Comics, Windsor-Smith developed a new approach to the comic book with his Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller, an ongoing, monthly series published in an oversized, omnibus format with multiple genres and storylines. Premiering in 1996, the book features continuing stories including "The Freebooters," "Young Gods," and "The Paradoxman." Written and drawn by Windsor-Smith, the comics were also produced at the Windsor-Smith Studio, which he founded. "The Freebooters" is set in the same milieu as the "Conan the Barbarian" series and features a retired warrior, Axus, whom the young Aran sets out to find. Aran is convinced that the old warrior is the only one who can save the world. "Young Gods" tells the story of a god named Heros and the goddess Adastra, who are fated to marry, thus uniting their respective realms. Unfortunately, the night before the wedding, Heros is swept away during a bachelor party that lasts much longer than expected. By the time he returns, the two godly pantheons have gone to war. And with "The Paradoxman," Windsor-Smith relates the story of time traveler Tristan Caine. Each issue of Storyteller presents a different installment in each of these three storylines. Though Windsor-Smith and Dark Horse parted company in 1998, he subsequently published a book-length compilation with Fantagraphics, Young Gods and Friends, which includes two final never-before-published episodes from "Young Gods." With Adastra in Africa, he created a stand-alone title featuring the princess from that same title.
In 1994 Windsor-Smith decided to put in order his creative output of the past three decades and tell a quite personal tale of his own experiences with paranormal events. "I would hate to die and leave everything unsaid," he told David Doane in an online interview for the Silver Bullet Comics Web site, explaining his intention in tackling his multi-volume Opus. "I'm not planning on croaking anytime soon, but there comes a time, you know?" In a discussion with William C. Ritchie posted on his own Web site, Windsor-Smith described Opus as "part art book, part biography, part mystical revelation, and part philosophical inquiry." He gathers artwork from throughout his career in each volume of Opus; paired with these is the story of his own cosmic awakening in 1973 in the story "Time Rise." Speaking with Ritchie, Windsor-Smith explained the title of that story: "Time has been a pivotal element in all of my experiences. That's Time with a capital 'T,' it doesn't really relate to what we think of as clock-time....'Time Rise' as a coupling, refers to the Rise of Consciousness." As Windsor-Smith further remarked to Doane, "From a distance, Opus is a coffee-table art book. You start to read it, and it's about the paranormal and metaphysics." In the first two volumes of Opus, he relates how, in 1973, he began to come into contact with a voice that questioned his path in life. Suddenly, inanimate objects began "speaking" to him: his secondhand furniture offered up tales of former owners. What he calls "light people," entities from another plane of existence, could be seen on New York's streets and he is carried back to his early childhood in a time tunnel.
Writing in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Charles De Lint noted the dual nature of Opus, writing that it "can be appreciated on different levels." De Lint praised the "wonderful sampling" of Windsor-Smith's "mostly romantic art." For the critic, such a visual element would have been enough, but he remarked that Windsor-Smith "is also using these books as a way of exploring the way the paranormal has intruded into his life," a task he accomplishes in an "accessible manner." For Library Journal's Stephen Weiner, however, the "stream-of-consciousness manner" of organization of the first volume is "confusing." Reviewing that same volume for Booklist, Gordon Flagg called Opus, Volume 1 "lavish," but also found the paranormal discussions "overwritten." Flagg felt that the "too-brief notes for the illustrations" are more interesting. Reviewing the second volume, published in 2001, Ryan noted in Library Journal that he found it an "invaluable resource to budding comic book artists." A Publishers Weekly contributor also had praise for the second volume, noting that Windsor-Smith's "lengthy reflections" on topics from consciousness, reality, astral travel, psychometry, UFOs, and telepathy are "fascinating," though "sometimes ponderous and self-indulgent." The same reviewer also commended the artwork, concluding that Opus is a "compelling and beautiful book."
If you enjoy the works of Barry Windsor-Smith
If you enjoy the works of Barry Windsor-Smith, you might want to check out the following books:
Aubrey Beardsley, The Best Works of Aubrey Beardsley, 1990.
Kurt Busiek, Marvels (Marvel Heroes), 2004.
Michael Mallory, Marvel: The Characters and Their Universe, 2002.
Alex Ross, Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross, 2003.
Windsor-Smith summed up to Ritchie the importance of the message he was attempting to impart with his Opus: "For our own good, and the future of this planet and everybody and every living thing on it, we must face the challenge of changing ourselves profoundly. We must take ourselves up and outward to new levels of understanding. Comprehension, perception. In a word, we need to become enlightened. Our brains and minds are capable of this transition, that's why we have brains and minds. Let's take our individual and whole-world consciousness to new levels of cognitive insight and understanding."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, October 15, 1999, Gordon Flagg, review of Opus, Volume 1, p. 408.
Library Journal, October 15, 1999, Stephen Weiner, review of Opus, Volume 1, p. 67; June 1, 2001, Chris Ryan, review of Opus, Volume 2, p. 154.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Charles De Lint, review of Opus, Volume 2, pp. 31-35.
Publishers Weekly, May 28, 2001, review of Opus, Volume 2, p. 51.
Fantagraphics Books Web site,http://www.fantagraphics.com/ (January 3, 2004).
Greatest Comics,http://www.geocities.com/mbrown123/greatest_comics/ (January 6, 2004), "Conan the Barbarian Number One."
Official Barry Windsor-Smith Web site,http://www.barrywindsor-smith.com (January 3, 2004), William C. Ritchie, interview with Windsor-Smith.
Silver Bullet Comics Web site,http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/ (January 3, 2004), Alan David Doane, interview with Windsor-Smith.
TwoMorrows.com,http://www.twomorrows.com/ (January 3, 2004), Jon B. Cooke, "Alias Barry Windsor-Smith."*