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Year of the Artist, Day 343: Barry Windsor-Smith, Part 1 – Daredevil #51 and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #12

by  in Comic News Comment
Year of the Artist, Day 343: Barry Windsor-Smith, Part 1 – <i>Daredevil</i> #51 and <i>Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD</i> #12

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Barry Windsor-Smith, and the issues are Daredevil #51 and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #12, both of which were published by Marvel and are cover dated April and May 1969, respectively. Enjoy!

Windsor-Smith’s career began in late 1968, when he drew some covers for Marvel, but it appears that Daredevil #50 is his first interior work. I was poking around Midtown Comics a few months ago looking for early Windsor-Smith, and issues #50 and 52 were ridiculously expensive, while issue #51 was something like 6 bucks. Why? Beats me. So it’s not his first interior work, but it’s close. In fact, despite having a later cover date, Nick Fury came out a week earlier! I don’t know when Windsor-Smith drew them, so I figured I’d combine the two issues into one post and show Daredevil first, since technically it has an earlier cover date. Plus, the art in Nick Fury is cooler, so I want to save it until the end. That’s just how I roll. I hope I blow your mind with some groovy 1960s artwork, man! Will it look like Kirby? Will it look like Steranko? Well, yes, but Windsor-Smith was too talented to be crappy at aping those two titans!

So, yeah. Kirby, is that you? Look at that “stunulator” in Panel 4 (I’m totally serious, it’s called a “stunulator,” which makes me think Professor Doofenshmirtz has been reading too many old Marvel comics), as the cops shoot at the “Plastoid.” So much circuitry! The anguish of the Plastoid in Panel 5 is so very Kirby-esque, and we get Kirby Krackle to boot! Hey, is that a Kirby face in Panel 6, with trademarked Kirby Krazy Hair? Why, yes, it is!

I’m joking a little, because Windsor-Smith was 19 when he drew this, and it’s quite good for a 19-year-old, even if he was copying Kirby. There are worse role models, after all. That drawing of the Plastoid in the center is really nice, as either Windsor-Smith or inker George Klein uses really nice blacks, while the colorist (who might be Michele Robinson, although she’s not credited) does a good job with the yellow blast of the stunulator (trademarked by Tony Stark, yo!) slowly fading to orange as we move farther away in the blast radius. The blacks on the Plastoid in Panel 5 are terrific, too, as it really shows how much it’s affecting the poor Plastoid. Okay, maybe not “poor Plastoid,” as it’s there to kill someone, but still. Poor Plastoid!

Windsor-Smith has that early Kirby style, where the figures tend to have long, splayed limbs that don’t seem to bend – Kirby wasn’t bad at action, but he did like to draw dramatic poses, occasionally to the work’s detriment. We see that in Panel 1, as the Plastoid and Biggie Benson fall from the catwalk, and the Plastoid’s legs are in a wide stance and straight, while Biggie falls a bit more realistically. Of course, the Plastoid is a robot, so that accounts for it a little, but notice in Panel 2 that his legs look much more natural. He gives the Plastoid “Kirby hands,” too, which isn’t terribly surprising. He remembers to put Biggie’s hand protruding from the wreckage, a nice macabre touch showing us that the crook is indeed toast. Poor Biggie!

Starr Saxon built the robot and is looking for a tracer he installed in it, which leads him to Matt Murdock’s apartment and the discovery that Matt is Daredevil. Windsor-Smith again channels Kirby with the faces, although he and Klein aren’t quite as harsh and bold with the faces – we get a bit more roundedness and softness to them. However, I wanted to show this because of the view of the Plastoid in the upper right – Matt scans it with his radar sense, and Windsor-Smith goes ridiculously detailed with the circuitry making up the Plastoid. I find this fascinating, as years later, Windsor-Smith would become famous (well, maybe not exactly “famous”) for the way he drew machinery. This is a nifty early example.

Meanwhile, Matt Murdock has radiation sickness (although he doesn’t know it yet), which apparently is causing his powers to fail, as we see here. Already, Windsor-Smith is decent at laying out a page, as he needs to get quite a bit onto this one (Roy Thomas wrote this, and it’s a bit verbose), but he does a nice job with Starr’s evil revelation in the first three panels and Daredevil’s problems in Panels 4-9. Starr is a fairly Kirby-esque figure, with the thin eyes, wide and thin mouth, and long fingers, but Windsor-Smith does a good job with his evil facial expressions. His Daredevil is a bit blocky, as Kirby’s would have been (did the King ever draw Daredevil in a comic?), but he does pose him well as he swings over the city. The middle panel of the bottom row – where Daredevil plummets – is keen, as Windsor-Smith uses hatching to create a feeling of intense speed. These little innovations are always nice to see, especially from a very young artist.

Matt has decided to stop being Daredevil and reconnect with Karen and Foggy, so we get this page where he really doesn’t have to do too much because his friends come crawling back to him. Stop enabling him, Karen and Foggy! This is another Kirby-esque page, especially the drawing of Matt when he exults that Karen loves him – the wide face and square jaw are very Kirby-ish, as is Matt’s bulky, muscular frame. Still, the faces remain a bit softer than what we’d get from Kirby – Karen’s cheekbones aren’t quite as severe, while in the final panel, Foggy looks downright adorable.

Matt’s narration seems to imply that the dude in the lower right is Saxon Starr, but I doubt that – Starr is debonair, after all, and that dude looks like Mr. Hyde. Maybe it’s how Matt sees himself as Daredevil? Beats me. What I do love about the page is the way Windsor-Smith uses the black dots to create negative images of Daredevil – it’s a very cool technique, and it reminds of pointillism on a macro scale. I imagine it’s the way Matt “sees” the world, according to Windsor-Smith, or at least one aspect of the world. It’s experimental, too, which is always neat to see in a mainstream superhero book, even though Marvel had already proven they were willing to let their artists experiment a little.

As I noted, Nick Fury #12 came out a week before Daredevil, but I’m not sure when Windsor-Smith was drawing them (probably simultaneously, given how close together they came out). I just like the art in Nick Fury a little more, so I saved it for second!

SHIELD agents are tracking Nick because a mole has convinced them that Nick’s a traitor, so Nick has to fight back! All of the guns in this issue are standard-issue Kirby pistols, with excessive circuitry and doodads adorning them, but they’re fun, so who cares, right? Windsor-Smith does some clever things in this issue, including using the sweep of the agent’s gun to form the panel border in Panel 1 there, while the small inset panel of Nick firing his gun is actually being held by the SHIELD agent in Panel 4 as he falls backward. Windsor-Smith may have drawn this before Daredevil, because his sense of proportion is a bit off in this story – for some of it, it’s clear he’s doing it on purpose, but sometimes, it just looks sloppy. The falling SHIELD agent in Panel 4 is an example of the wild proportions – he’s falling “toward” the reader, so his hands are “closer” to us, but his left hand still looks huge. However, the figure itself is good – Windsor-Smith and Sid Greene are credited with inks, so I’m not sure who’s doing it here, but the loss of detail closer to the impact is cleverly done, while the black chunks around the figure show the impact of Nick’s blast nicely. I can’t even find a hint of who colored this, but that panel, at least, is well done, much like the drawing of the Plastoid getting shot above.

Rickard (from “Intelligence”) and the general confront Fury, and we get this busy page. This was written by Steve Parkhouse (?!?!?), and he needs to get a lot of information onto these pages, man! Windsor-Smith does his best to present it in a compelling way. Panel 2 shows Nick reflected in Rickard’s sunglasses, and the colorist does a nice job with the green tint. When the general shows Nick the photos, we get his hand fanning them out, which helps move our eye across them but also implies a bit of movement, so that it doesn’t become too stagnant. Windsor-Smith puts Rickard and the general in front of the flag in Panel 7, which is a bit much, but at least it provides a nice backdrop. Finally, in Panel 8, we get Nick reflected in the glasses again, although I’m not entirely sure what those three green bands are supposed to be. Meanwhile, we see a bit of the distortion of the extremities – Rickard’s point in Panel 7 is fine, as it’s “closer” to us, but his hand in Panel 5 is wildly disproportionate. Windsor-Smith was taking his admiration of “Kirby hands” a bit too far!

Fury is chased by Hydra agents pretending to be SHIELD agents, but he sorts their hash pretty quickly, you can bet! Windsor-Smith draws an uneven panel to fit the bad guy and the manhole cover smashing through the “windscreen” (I love little things like that, because it shows the writer is British, which Parkhouse is, and it seems out of place in an American comic – you see it with Americans trying to write foreigners, too, so it’s neat to see it goes both ways). It also makes the glass shattering a bit more violent – it’s more expansive, and the panel’s shape forces us to focus on it. Windsor-Smith pairs it with the flying machine crashing, which is a necessary panel but not a terribly important one, so he doesn’t need to use too much room, and then he expands Panel 3 to show the explosion. Again, we get the more indistinct Kirby Krackle as the ship spins and explodes, which is an interesting choice as it makes the art look a bit “messier” – it’s not, but it gives the impression of all the elements of the fire blending together. Windsor-Smith combines two panels without using a border, as the ship spins at the top and then skids along the ground at the bottom. This allows him to make the explosion bigger and more impressive, while still leading us off the page with the sound effect even though the machine is skidding from the right to the left. Once again, the coloring is very impressive. It’s too bad we don’t know who did it!

This is the next page, as Fury comes out of the manhole where he hid so he wasn’t consumed by the explosion. In Panel 3, we see a good example of how this work isn’t as Kirby-esque – Windsor-Smith and Greene (if Greene inked this page) don’t use as many hard lines, so Nick’s face is a bit softer than we’d see with Kirby. Panel 4 is a nice one, as Windsor-Smith’s Fury fluidly comes out of the manhole to see what’s going on. His figure work is well done, and the way he bends Nick is more realistic than what we saw with the Plastoid and Biggie in Daredevil. Meanwhile, we see Windsor-Smith’s creativity in Panel 6, as we get a fish-eye lens view of Nick as he walks away. That’s a terrific drawing, as Windsor-Smith curves the buildings and Fury himself, with his cigar smoke providing a coil in the center. Plus, Windsor-Smith blacks in the clouds wonderfully, with them providing a nice backdrop to the urban scene. This is a very cool panel, and it’s neat that Windsor-Smith knew what he was doing even this early in his career.

This is a weird page, in that Windsor-Smith goes a little too far with the disproportionate limbs, and it makes me think he’s not on the same page with the inker, Greene (unless, of course, he inked this page himself). Rickard’s hand on Nick’s shoulder in Panel 1 is another example of it being “closer” to the reader, so it makes sense that it would be larger, but it still looks bigger than it should be. Fury punches him away, then flips him in Panel 3. Check out Nick’s left hand and arm in that panel – the arm looks longer than his leg, and his hand is bigger than his head. It’s just odd. When he strikes the pose in Panel 4, his left hand is huge and even distorted so it doesn’t even look like a healthy hand, and again, I wonder if Windsor-Smith sketched something in and either enlarged it during the inking process or if Greene screwed up. It’s really ugly, though. When Nick tosses Rickard in Panel 5, we still get the distortion, but it’s a bit better because Rickard is moving fast and “toward” us, so his hands are bigger and his feet a bit smaller to show the dimensional factor. Plus, Windsor-Smith does a nice job making him look a bit limp, as Nick has thrashed him pretty well. There’s still a lot of odd work on this page.

Windsor-Smith gives us another cool layout, as Jimmy Woo flies his helicopter over the city and we get a round panel with a nice panoramic view of New York. Windsor-Smith makes the spinning rotors fairly abstract so that they still give the impression of moving but don’t distract from the drawing “underneath” them, and he uses the perspective wonderfully to show how high up Jimmy is. He fits the rest of the action into the three smaller panels well, too, moving us nicely in the curve – the word balloons in Panel 2 lead us to Jimmy, who’s the first person we see in Panel 3, and then Jimmy and Gabe are against the left side of Panel 4, while Jimmy’s arm and the narration lead us off the page. It’s just another nicely innovative layout from Windsor-Smith.

All of this work didn’t go unnoticed, of course, and Windsor-Smith began getting higher-profile assignments. Soon enough he was drawing a certain barbarian, which would make him a big star in comics. I’ll show some of that tomorrow! Find more Conan in the archives!

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