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Year of the Artist, Day 262: Marc Silvestri, Part 1 – House of Mystery #292 and King Conan #13

by  in Comic News Comment
Year of the Artist, Day 262: Marc Silvestri, Part 1 – <i>House of Mystery</i> #292 and <i>King Conan</i> #13

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Marc Silvestri, and the story is “… And Spoil the Child!” in House of Mystery #292 and the issue is King Conan #13, the first of which was published by DC and is cover dated May 1981 and the second of which was published by Marvel and is cover dated November 1982. Enjoy!

As far as I can tell, Marc Silvestri’s first comics work came in House of Mystery #292, but it’s a very short story, so I decided to show some of his Conan work from a year later. I’m already having a difficult time figuring out which Silvestri work to feature, so I’m already cheating! Y’all can just deal with it!

Early on in Silvestri’s career, it was all about the inkers. Tony DeZuniga inked this story, and his heavy hand is very apparent, as this looks nothing like the Silvestri we’d all come to know and love. That’s not to say it’s bad at all – Silvestri doesn’t do too much with the layout, but the figure work is fine, and however much he has to do with the facial expressions work is quite good, too, especially when Psychopathic Andy gets grumpy in the final panel. (On a side note, who on earth has dolls that look like their parents? That’s just fucking weird.) The biggest problem on the page is the way Andy’s father points in his direction in Panel 3. No one in human history has ever criticized someone and punctuated their criticism by pointing at them like that. Yet that’s how Silvestri chooses to draw Andy’s dad’s arm. He does a nice job moving us around the page, though, and DeZuniga inks the page well, as he usually does. Those dolls are still freaking me out, though. Man.

There’s some nice work on this page, but there’s some weird stuff too. Silvestri’s use of finer lines and the long black streaks on the plastic covering over Andy is very nicely done, while Bob Le Rose’s coloring helps create a “sickly” feeling to the scene, which of course is relevant as Andy lives in a hospital (after he, you know, killed his parents). Then we get the bottom row, which is where the weirdness starts. Dr. Bridges gives birth, apparently to a fully-clothed 2-year-old, which ought to worry her a bit. In the middle panel, Silvestri makes Thomas float as he’s doing the hand stand, and while I get the fact that his mother is in the background, the perspective still looks a bit weird. In Panel 3, she’s kneeling, which helps with the relative sizes, but he still looks freakishly large, which, when you’re born with a full head of hair and apparently just in time to start shaving, isn’t surprising. Silvestri had to pack a lot into the story – it’s five pages long – but it’s still an odd sequence of events.

The general, who wants to use Andy as a weapon, gets more than he bargained for (boy, that was a really good idea to put a globe in there with the kid, wasn’t it?), and we get a nice page to show it. Silvestri gives us a good establishing shot with the globe displayed, but not too prominently, and then we get tighter focus until the pull-back in Panel 5, showing the devastation Andy is about to wreak (can’t the nurse snatch it out of his hands?). Panel 2 is nice, with the general looming behind Andy – he’s composed of lines as he’s on the screen, which gives him a very cool creepy vibe as he watches the silhouette of Andy. Silvestri and DeZuniga make the panic on the general’s and nurse’s faces very real in Panel 4, with the shadows dominating their faces as they realize that Andy is about to kill them all. I’m not sure if Silvestri added the hatching emanating from the television in Panels 1 and 5 and the globe as Andy lifts it, but while it’s a fairly standard move for the time, I like to think it’s Silvestri already deciding he digs the lines, man!

Silvestri was probably 22 when he drew this story (depending on how long DC sat on it, maybe he was 21), so of course he would be a bit raw, and over the next year, he drew some other short stories in DC anthology books (which I don’t own) before drawing some Conan stories for Marvel. I own his earliest Conan comic (Conan the Barbarian #135), but I decided to check out King Conan from a few months later (at least by publication date), mainly because it’s more interesting, visually.

In this issue, Silvestri is inked by Richard Villamonte, about whom I know absolutely nothing except his name. He seems perfectly fine, though, as his lines aren’t as thick of DeZuniga’s, but he still manages to shade the evil wizards quite well. Silvestri plays into some stereotypes, but it’s not too egregious, and the worst part of the book is George Roussos’s coloring of Urazai, which fluctuates between the orange we see here to a pallid yellow. Silvestri does nice figure work, as Jumbassa is muscular but not ridiculously so, while he draws Scyllana with nice curves and realizes that when women lie on their backs, their breasts tend to fall to the side like they are in Panel 5. He does a pretty good job showing the wizards’ rather one-note personalities – Scyllana does look bored in Panel 5, but she also looks scheming in Panel 2; Jumbassa shows his worry well in Panel 3; Urazai is shifty, and Silvestri does well with that in Panel 4. It’s probably too much to ask that Doug Moench and Silvestri at least jumble up the stereotypes – the “Asian” wizard is conniving, for instance, while the “African” wizard is more brutish – but at least all the wizards have interesting schemes, as we see later in the issue.

There’s nice work here, but as usual, I don’t know how much is the inker and how much is Silvestri. Tarantia is very nicely hatched in Panel 1, giving it a burnished and ancient look, befitting the venerable capital of an old empire. Silvestri uses spot blacks well to show where the light flows from, evoking a bit of nostalgia which is a hallmark of any old place. As Conan and Conn move around the city, we get some nice views of the architecture, and once again there’s a lot of nice, delicate inking, making the stones stand out without being too oppressive. Conan’s pose in Panel 6 (and in Panel 1 of the following page, but I’m not showing that) is a bit weird – it’s as if he’s walking by sliding his feet on the ground – but I’ll chalk that up to Silvestri’s relative inexperience.

Silvestri is already pretty good at action, as Conan battles some lions created by Jumbassa. He starts with a close-up and the sound effect, making us wonder what’s going on, then gives us a view of the lions ready to strike. With that set-up, he has Conan attack, and Silvestri’s line work is fluid enough so that Conan looks quite lithe leaping over the lions and slashing at them with his sword. He even leads us from panel to panel pretty well, finishing up with Conan’s sword slashing to the right in the bottom panel to lead us off the page. His lion design is a bit off, as the lions appear to have far too thick tails in Panel 3, but it’s not too bad. We get nice hatching on Conan’s face in Panel 1, showing his roughness even though he’s been living as a king of Aquilonia, while the hatching on the lions suggests fur quite well. Silvestri can’t show too much blood – this was when Marvel was still reticent about that – but the abstract shapes in Panel 5 and the tuft of fur on the back of the lion do a good job implying the spray of blood.

This is a nice dynamic page, as Jumbassa decides to fight Conan with lightning, which doesn’t turn out too well for him. I imagine he drew in the lightning in Panel 3 and then Roussos erased the holding lines when he colored it, but I’m not sure – given what we see in the rest of the page, it’s probable, though. The hatching on both Conan and Jumbassa is well done – in Panel 3, Jumbassa is lit quite nicely by the electricity flowing around him – and the mirrors are lined nicely, too. In Panel 2, we see a small hint of “classic Silvestri” – certainly high cheekbones are not exclusive to him, but the way the cheeks are hatched thickly with the dark line extending down from the bottom of the curve, plus the shape of Conan’s face, point to the development of the more stylized Silvestri face. We’ll see more of that down the line!

Many artists are accused of drawing the same faces, especially those of women, and here we see a pretty good example of that. Silvestri does what he can – the woman with the Bettie Page bangs gets slightly wider eyes than the others, but other than that, the only thing different about the women are their hair styles and colors. In Panel 4, it appears that Silvestri even uses the same drawing for two different women – the two with black hair look like twins. In comics, with their idealized examples of men and women, we get this a lot, because the idealized man is defined by his muscles, and therefore his face can be a different shape and his hair can be long or short and he can even have scars (’cause chicks dig scars), while women have to have the exact same body type (curvy, fairly big-boobed) and rarely, even today, do we see “attractive” women in pop culture with short hair. Their faces must all be the same, too – thin, high eyebrows; thin eyes with thick lashes; high cheekbones; a tapering chin. At no point in his career has Silvestri shown any inclination to challenge this paradigm, and we see it even in these early stages. That’s okay, though – they’re hotties!

Silvestri does nice work with the “homunculi,” giving them a misshapen, “Alien-esque” type of body structure, so that they look nice and creepy. He does nice work with the strands holding Conan, and Roussos smartly gets rid of the holding lines to make the strands look stickier. Silvestri, again, shows us that he does nice work with action, as Conan slashes and hacks his way through the homunculi. It’s a bit unfortunate that Roussos chooses to color the homunculi magenta in the bottom three panels, because it seems to make the fade a bit until they’re red masses. The pink isn’t the best color, but the lighter hue helps us see them more clearly. Had Roussos kept the pink that he used in Panel 1, it might have worked better. That’s completely subjective, but it seems like that would have been a better choice.

I love the top two panels, as Silvestri draws Conan in the thick of the fight, and Silvestri makes sure that each soldier is clearly defined, with nice details and a good sense of chaotic movement. He draws a nice dragon, too – notice the long pieces of skin trailing from its nose, which is where Silvestri falls into another Asian stereotype – the dragon “belongs” to Urazai, so of course it looks like a Chinese dragon!. The movement of that final panel is nice, too, as we can feel the dragon flinging its head back and the men flying off of it. Silvestri and Villamonte do good work on the dragon, with the dark hatching creating good texture on its skin and the streaky lines on the wings making them leathery. The line of the panel leads us down to Conan and his men, and Silvestri does good work there, too, showing both men standing there, ready to fight, while also showing a few men running away. Silvestri makes this scene a truly dramatic one, and it works well.

I don’t own a comic that I can point at where we see the first “Silvestri” style that made him famous, but tomorrow, I’ll check out a comic in which you can tell he’s already getting there. It’s a comic I’ve shown on this blog before, so you might be able to find it if you feel like it! It certainly hasn’t shown up yet in the archives!

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