Barry Windsor-Smith

(This was something I had posted on my old site)

Looking back on my experience in comics, it was a bit haphazzard for the first several years. Partially because companies would come and go like web companies when the internet bubble burst. No sooner than I would make a deal to draw a title, said company would go bye-bye. But I also take a large portion of the blame. I wasn't a mature enough professional to consistently do new samples and shop myself. I typically showed my wares at Chicago Comic Con, when I could get in front of people from all the major publishers. I simply didn't work hard enough during the rest of the year.

I also attribute some of this to my attention span.

When I was younger, I physically had the need to draw or I didn't feel well. I felt incomplete somehow. As I grew older, I found that programming (more specifically, LEARNING to program computers) replaced that need. Not a good thing for a freelance comic book artist. I didn't draw and didn't make a few deadlines. My work at Marvel came because of Doug Moench putting in a good word for me. David Campiti and Roger McKenzie liked me and my work and helped me publish Jack Frost.

I eventually joined forces with David to help start Innovation Corporation. I was involved with them for a year or so. Then Gary Reed's Caliber Press-- closer to two years (I was getting better!)

But in 1992, I joined Jim Shooter and Bob Layton at Valiant Comics in NYC. It was there that I came into my own. I've been quoted in dozens of places talking about the company and my relationship. How I liked the people and was thankful to learn my craft. Bob Layton's Iron Man had been a staple of my High School Years.

But I've rarely mentioned one of the other players in the play. Barry Windsor-Smith was there as well. He worked many days from his home upstate, but I would often see him come in during my first weeks and grew more brave in being able to chat with this guy who was such an important figure in my growth and love of comics.

Eventually, we grew friendly and he was someone I enjoyed chatting with and learning from.

You see, when I was growing up, I wanted to draw like John Byrne or George Perez. They were my idols. Then as I grew older, I was drawn to the power of Frank Miller's storytelling-- maybe the art was cruder (to my eyes), but there was a power and grace in the way he led your eye across the page. Paul Gulacy and Gene Day influenced me with their realism. Then I discovered Al Williamson, who influenced my drawing more than any other person. I became infatuated with his line. With the origin of where he came from-- Alex Raymond and John Prentice.

But in 1984, my young wife and I had a tragedy. We lost our first child. A little girl named Carrie Jo Anne. She only lived a day. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. But I'm not going to spend more words here on that, I simply mention it to give you a frame of reference. I was nearly 19 years old. My world had gone from fantasy to reality in a heartbeat.

In visiting a comic shop while seeing some friends who had been supportive during our loss, I discovered a print called, Icarus Fallen by BWS.

In one image, It showed me everything I wanted to be as an artist. Grace and power, detail and control, a beautiful palette. Perhaps I could still have fantasy in my life. I had to learn who this BWS was.
I was informed that he was Barry Windsor-Smith, the guy that used to draw Conan and didn't I know anything?
Apparently, I didn't.

Not long after, I found a copy of The Studio, a delightful book showcasing Barry's work alongside Bernie Wrightson, Michael Kaluta and Jeffrey Jones. All brilliant artists, I was particularly drawn to Barry's and Bernie's work. Jeffrey's holds an ephemeral beauty that I couldn't see in myself, but there was a little Wrightson and Smith in how I thought.

Barry didn't seem to do much work in comics in the 80's. There was an incredible, moment-defining X-Men story with Wolverine. And an Epic Illustrated painted piece that I studied for days.
I studied influences I thought Barry had learned from. That's where my love of Pre-Raphaelites came from. A visit to my house shows prints of Rosetti, Waterhouse and Alma-Tadema.
Flash forward eight years later and I had my chance to work with him. Ironically, he saw me more as a fledgling writer and editor than a visual artist. That's what my role was.

But one day, I had some of my samples out showing them to somebody or another and he came behind and looked down on the art table, picking up a blue-pencilled sample I had done for Secret Agent Corrigan.

Pasted Graphic

He asked whose work it was and when I told him mine, he picked up the piece again and smiled. "Kevin! This is very good! Why aren't you drawing one of these bloody books?!" It made my day. Possibly my year. At least my month.

Not long after, I got permission to draw Bloodshot #0 as well as write it. I had a year and could fit the work in between my regular duties without risking dropping any of my editorial or writing balls.
Barry's influence on my work at the time is obvious. The way I drew the Warrior exudes my love for his linework.

I didn't get a chance to work with Barry much. Our paths really only crossed for six or eight months. We briefly shared an office and I got to watch him draw part of Unity #1. I'm forever associated with him because of the best-selling comic book Bloodshot #1. He illustrated that famous cover and I wrote the book. I've signed probably 20,000 copies of that book, always admiring the simplistic, but not simple rendering of our hero, accompanied by that trademark BWS.

I had the opportunity to reflect recently on why I hadn't mentioned Barry much over the years. I suppose that part of that was not wanting Barry to think I was name-dropping. Old self-confidence issues, probably. He certainly had an impact on me.

Jim, Barry and Bob created the two storylines that ultimately defined the Valiant Universe-- Solar #0 and Unity. Without any of their contributions, the stars would not have been in alignment and I would be talking about my most successful comic book being the adaptation of Rocky Horror Picture Show I did.

But they were there at the right time and right place to create something special that I feel privileged to be a part of.

I've said thanks to Bob before and to Jim, who lent me money from his own pocket to move to NYC and work with him.

Now I take the opportunity to thank my friend Barry.