Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Barry-Windsor Smith: Storyteller #1 (“Freebooters Chapter One”), which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated October 1996. This scan comes from The Freebooters, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2005. Enjoy!
“Freebooters” was one of three stories that BWS wrote and drew for this comic series, which lasted only 9 issues but which I would LOVE to track down, if the quality of this serial is any indication. Even unfinished, this is a fine series, and it’s too bad BWS doesn’t do a whole lot of comics work anymore, because he is, after all, awesome.
This page is all about spectacle, of course, as Aran (who remains unnamed throughout the entire first chapter) rides into Shahariza. Windsor-Smith wants to impress both Aran and the reader with Shahariza’s magnificence, and I reckon he pulls it off quite nicely. Obviously, it’s a splash page, and Windsor-Smith isn’t too concerned with moving our eye across a series of panels, but he does want us to see what Shahariza is all about. He and colorist Tom Vincent give us a succession of marble temples piled on top each other, expressing the wonder of the metropolis and, ironically, its decadence as well. The entire page is aligned along a diagonal, with the palm tree over Aran shielding him and separating him from the rest of the page. So our eyes wanders down from the logo to the various columned edifices, pausing only to take in the reddish-brown, hot-dog-shaped blimp floating above it all. The incongruity of the blimp – the ragged house perched on top of it, its bulbousness compared to the smooth lines and graceful arcs of the buildings, and its diametrically opposed color – makes it a central image on the page, even if it’s not actually near the center of the page. It’s in a nice place, because it balances the logo, which is colored similarly and in contrast to the rest of Shahariza, implying that both the “Freebooters” and the blimp aren’t quite in line with the magnificence of the city. We see that Aran has a lot of luggage on his horse, so the fact that he’s “arrived” implies not that he’s just stopping in from around the corner, but the words and the baggage shows that he has come from quite a distance. The well-groomed branches forming a guard rail along the “boardwalk” and the torch placed alongside the highway also show that Shahariza is civilized – the bureaucracy makes sure that the roads leading to the city are well kept. BWS links the blimp with Aran through the word balloon – he could have put it beneath Aran, after all, but its placement means our eyes connect the dots between the two, the only two things on the page that show any life. Shahariza is a cold, beautiful place, and even though we can’t believe in this twilight that it’s asleep for the night, the drawing sets off its slumber with the messy life of the blimp and Aran and his horse. It’s a subtle way to contrast the “low-life” of the city with its more genteel elements. It might not be that blimp, but Aran soon encounters a blimp, and BWS has already set up the meeting of the blimp’s occupants and Aran with this opening page (and with the gorgeous double-page splash that follows this).
It’s amazing that BWS didn’t go blind drawing this page and the two that follows it, but luckily for readers, he managed to produce many beautiful pages after this. This is a fantastic way to begin this comic (which is a satire of the “great barbarian hero” stories of which Conan is, I guess, the most famous), as it gets us right into the story. Can you look away? NO YOU CAN’T!!!!
Next: The randomness of this exercise means we get a first page very similar to this one. How do you like that? If you want to see other splash pages, be sure to dive right into the archives!