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Worms of the Earth - Barry Windsor-Smith

Written by Arion on Saturday, September 15 2012 and posted in Blog

Worms of the Earth - Barry Windsor-Smith
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There has always been something slightly romantic about a group of rebels fighting against an evil empire. And I say romantic because more often than not, as readers we are well aware of the futility of such struggles. After all, what can a group of misfits do against a vast and powerful kingdom? Here, the rebel figure is embodied by Bran Mak Morn, the last king of the Picts; he’s a barbarian warrior doomed to fight against the oppressive despots of the Roman Empire.
Worms of the Earth - Barry Windsor-Smith
Barry Windsor-Smith & Tim Conrad

Bran Mak Morn has no rival in the battlefield, but he is only one man against thousands of legionnaires. So instead of a direct attack, he chooses a rather subtle approach: to understand the weaknesses of his enemies he pretends to be a Pict emissary, but in doing so, he also witnesses the cruelty and sadism of Roman tyrants. One of them is Titus Sulla, a man who tortures a Pict right in front of Bran Mak Morn. The king, seriously outnumbered, has no other choice but to see one of his subjects suffering without being able to help. 

Enraged by this situation, he makes an oath in the name of the Picts; he’ll punish the Romans. And to do so, he will seek the inhuman creatures that used to live in his land, long before his Pict ancestors set foot in it. These “Worms of the Earth” are subterraneous monsters that haven’t had contact with humans in thousands of years. Finding them will be a difficult task, but forcing them to destroy the men from Rome might be even harder.
Worms of the Earth - Barry Windsor-Smith
Roman tyrant Titus Sulla / tirano romano Titus Sulla

What’s interesting about Bran Mak Morn is that unlike Conan (let’s remember that both characters were created by novelist Robert E. Howard) he rarely engages into combat. When he sees his subject dying in front of him, he prefers to maintain his false identity as an emissary. When he flees from the Roman military camp, he bribes the guards instead of beheading them. And as much as he hates Titus Sulla, he knows he doesn’t stand a chance against his German guard and his impregnable fortress, the tower of Trajan, not far away from Hadrian’s Wall. Whereas Conan would use his sword and strength even against impossible odds, Bran Mak Morn relies on plans and strategy. In over 40 pages, the king of the Picts kills only two people and only in situations in which his victory has already been insured. Writer Roy Thomas, once again, proves to be an expert in recreating Robert E. Howard’s world and Barry Windsor-Smith does one of his best artistic works to date, which is saying quite a lot. In this occasion, Barry’s pencils were inked by the talented Tim Conrad. Both styles blend in perfectly and, as a result, we have one of the most beautifully illustrated comic books of the 20th century.

This is one of those rare occasions in which I would like to post every page and analyze them one by one, nevertheless, since time is of the essence, I’ll select only a few. Worms of the Earth starts with a marvelous double page spread. The barbarian Pict is about to get nailed to a cross by Roman legionnaires, the aerial perspective also includes a certain inclination that only a true master could accomplish, we have a large empty space in the middle which only emphasizes the dramatic action taking place on the left corner and the attitude of the witnesses in the upper right corner. If you look closely you could count every fiber of grass, every mound of dust slowly crawling in the floor. In the next page we see the Roman legionnaires portrayed as elegant warriors with immaculate capes, but one wonders who is more savage, the man getting his hands nailed to the cross whose barbaric features set him apart from the men of Rome or the general of the Legion who allows such vicious punishment. Barry Windsor-Smith has been extremely careful with every aspect of the page, even the way blood flows is strictly realistic.
Worms of the Earth - Barry Windsor-Smith
Bran Mak Morn, last king of the Picts / último rey de los pictos

On the third page we have the majestic profile of Titus Sulla, and it shares a certain resemblance to classic Greco-Roman busts. The last four frames of the page are genius: by closing in on the corpse of the dead Pict, we get a greater sense of distance from Bran Mak Morn and his personal slave, as we see the king of the Picts going away, the cadaver becomes a frame within a frame. On the fourth page we see Barry Windsor-Smith and Tim Conrad defying yet again the censorship of the Comics Code Authority with a brief scene of nudity. An expert in anatomy, Barry creates a muscled figure that is not as graceful as Conan’s young body, after all, the Cimmerian is not nearly as beastly as Bran Mak Morn. The fifth page develops an interesting game of correlations with the previous page. Both pages have 8 panels, divided in 4 narrow panels at the top, and 4 equal ones at the bottom. In page 4 we have Bran Mak Morn lying on his bed, on page 5 we see Valerius, a young Roman officer in his cot. In the following two panels we have a naked Bran Mak Morn and then the scantily clad body of the Roman youngster. In the fourth panel of each page we have the protagonist turning his back to the readers, and in the following panel we only get to see half of his face. And in the rest of the panels we see the last king of the Picts preparing for the killing and then we actually get to see the way he executes Valerius. I can only think of a handful of contemporary artists who would pay so much attention to composition and detail. 

Then we have the wonderful double page spread of “Curse of the Black Stone”. This is a brilliant work of art that leaves me in awe every time I see it. I could easily stare at it for a long time without ever getting tired of it. Then we have Bran Mak Morn gaining entrance into the subterranean kingdom of the Worms of the Earth. This is a striking page that pays homage to Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro technique while arranging ten panels in a completely innovative manner. Finally, we have Bran Mak Morn’s enemy, Titus Sulla, completely demented after being kidnapped by the Worms of the Earth, who were following the orders or the barbarian king. Bran Mak Morn wanted revenge, but as he sees the suffering of Titus Sulla decides to be magnanimous and gives the Roman a quick death. Barry Windsor-Smith and Tim Conrad created a masterpiece and it’s a shame that after almost 40 years only a few connoisseurs of the ninth art are aware of its existence.  
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Worms of the Earth - Barry Windsor-Smith
The death of Valerius / la muerte de Valerius

Siempre hubo algo ligeramente romántico en la idea de un grupo de rebeldes que lucha contra un malvado imperio. Y digo romántico porque, a menudo, los lectores son conscientes de la futilidad de tales luchas. Después de todo, ¿qué podría hacer un grupo de desadaptados en contra de un poderoso reino? Aquí, la figura del rebelde es personificada por Bran Mak Morn, el último rey de los pictos; él es un guerrero bárbaro condenado a pelear contra los opresivos déspotas del Imperio Romano.

Bran Mak Morn no tiene rival en el campo de batalla, pero él es un hombre solo en contra de miles de legionarios. Así que en vez de un ataque directo, planea algo más sutil: para entender las debilidades de sus enemigos, finge ser un emisario picto, pero al hacerlo, también es testigo de la crueldad y el sadismo de los tiranos romanos. Uno de ellos es Titus Sulla, un hombre que tortura a un picto frente a Bran Mak Morn. El rey, superado en número, no tiene otra opción que ver el sufrimiento de uno de sus súbditos sin ser capaz de ayudar.
Worms of the Earth - Barry Windsor-Smith
Looking at the horizon / viendo el horizonte

Enfurecido por esta situación, hace un juramento en el nombre de los pictos; castigará a los romanos. Y para lograrlo, buscará a las criaturas inhumanas que solían vivir en su región, mucho antes que sus ancestros pictos se asentaran allí. Estos gusanos de la Tierra son monstruos subterráneos que no han tenido contacto con humanos en miles de años. Encontrarlos será una tarea difícil, pero obligarlos a destruir a los hombres de Roma será mucho más duro. 
Worms of the Earth - Barry Windsor-Smith
in the subterranean kingdom / en el reino subterráneo

Resulta interesante que Bran Mak Morn, a diferencia de Conan (recordemos que ambos personajes fueron creados por el novelista Robert E. Howard), raramente se enfrasca en combate. Cuando ve a su súbdito muriendo frente a él, prefiere mantener su identidad falsa como emisario. Cuando huye del campamento militar romano, soborna a los guardias en lugar de decapitarlos. Y por más que odie a Titus Sulla, sabe que no tiene ninguna oportunidad frente a su guardia germana y su inexpugnable fortaleza, la torre de Trajano, próxima al Muro de Adriano. Mientras Conan usaría su espada y su fuerza incluso contra amenazas imposibles de vencer, Bran Mak Morn se apoya en planes y estrategias. En 40 páginas, el rey de los pictos mata sólo a dos personas y sólo en situaciones en las que su victoria ya ha sido garantizada. El escritor Roy Thomas, una vez más, demuestra que es un experto en recrear el mundo de Robert E. Howard y Barry Windsor-Smith realiza uno de sus mejores trabajos artísticos hasta la fecha, que ya es decir bastante. En esta ocasión, los lápices de Barry fueron entintados por el talentoso Tim Conrad. Ambos estilos se fusionan perfectamente y, como resultado, tenemos uno de los cómics más hermosamente ilustrados del siglo XX.

Esta es una de esas raras ocasiones en las que me gustaría colocar todas las páginas y analizarlas una por una, no obstante, ya que el tiempo es lo esencial, seleccionaré sólo unas cuantas. "Gusanos de la Tierra" empieza con una maravillosa página doble, el bárbaro picto está a punto de ser clavado a la cruz por legionarios romanos, la perspectiva área también incluye una cierta inclinación que sólo podría ser lograda por un verdadero maestro, tenemos un gran espacio vacío al medio, que enfatiza la acción dramática que tiene lugar en la esquina izquierda y la actitud de los testigos en la esquina superior derecha. Si miran de cerca podrán contar cada brizna de hierba, cada montículo de polvo desplazándose por el piso. En la siguiente página vemos a los legionarios romanos retratados como elegantes guerreros con capas inmaculadas, pero uno se pregunta quién es más salvaje, el hombre de rasgos barbáricos que lo diferencian de los romanos y que está siendo clavado a la cruz o el general de la legión que permite un castigo tan sanguinario. Barry Windsor-Smith ha sido extremadamente cuidadoso con cada aspecto de la página, incluso la forma en que la sangre fluye es estrictamente realista.
Worms of the Earth - Barry Windsor-Smith
the death of Titus Sulla / la muerte de Titus Sulla

En la tercera página tenemos el mayestático perfil de Titus Sulla, y comparte una cierta semejanza con los bustos grecorromanos clásicos. Las últimas cuatro viñetas de la página son geniales: el acercamiento al cuerpo del picto muerto, obtenemos un mayor sentido de distancia con Bran Mak Morn y su esclavo personal, al ver al rey de los pictos marcharse, el cadáver se convierte en una viñeta dentro de una viñeta. En la cuarta página Barry Windsor-Smith y Tim Conrad desafían nuevamente a la censura de la Autoridad del Código de los Cómics con una breve escena de desnudez. Un experto en la anatomía, Barry crea una figura musculosa que no tiene la gallardía del cuerpo juvenil de Conan, después de todo, el cimerio no es para nada tan bestial como Bran Mak Morn. La quinta página desarrolla un interesante juego de correlaciones con la anterior. Ambas páginas tienen 8 viñetas, divididas en 4 viñetas angostas arriba y cuatro angostas abajo. En la página 4 tenemos a Bran Mak Morn echado en su cama, en la página 5 tenemos a Valerius, un joven oficial romano en su catre. En las siguientes viñetas tenemos a un Bran Mak Morn desnudo y luego el cuerpo desvestido del joven romano. En la cuarta viñeta de cada página, sólo vemos la mitad de su cara. Y en el resto de los paneles, vemos al último rey de los pictos preparándose para matar y luego vemos la manera en la que ejecuta a Valerius. Sólo se me ocurre un puñado de artistas contemporáneos que podrían prestar tanta atención a la composición y al detalle.

Luego tenemos la maravillosa página doble de "La maldición de la piedra negra". Este es una brillante obra de arte que me deja asombrado cada vez que la veo. Podría fácilmente contemplarla por mucho tiempo sin cansarme. Luego tenemos a Bran Mak Morn adentrándose en el reino subterráneo de los gusanos de la Tierra. Esta es una página preciosa que rinde homenaje a la técnica del claroscuro de Rembrandt mientras distribuye diez viñetas de una manera completamente innovadora. Finalmente tenemos a Titus Sulla, el enemigo de Bran Mak Morn, completamente enloquecido luego de ser secuestrado por los gusanos de la Tierra, quienes siguieron las órdenes del rey bárbaro. Bran Mak Morn quería venganza, pero al ver el sufrimiento de Titus Sulla decide ser magnánimo y le da al romano una muerte rápida. Barry Windsor-Smith y Tim Conrad crearon una obra maestra y es una lástima que casi 40 años después sólo unos pocos conocedores del noveno arte estén al tanto de su existencia.

Originally Published at http://artbyarion.blogspot.com/2012/09/worms-of-earth-barry-windsor-smith.html


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About the Author - Arion


Arion, who is either from Chile or New York (it’s not really clear) writes a blog that the Outhouse steals on a regular basis.  Arion is by far the nicest of all the staff writers and the most well behaved only having been banned from one country.  One thing we really appreciate about Aroin is that he writes his reviews in English and Spanish and we hope someday he’ll translate this blurb for us.  We’re not so good at languages, just look at how well we write in English if you need proof.  You should bookmark Arion’s blog -  http://artbyarion.blogspot.com – and actually look at it.  There will be a quiz at the end of every month.

 


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