In early May of this year, I approached Canadian illustrator Finn Matthews with an idea for a commission. Finn is currently working with writer Mahendra Singh, who is an excellent illustrator in his own right, on an ambitious graphic novel, Tamburlaine: The Scourge of God, that seeks to transmute Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great (Part I & Part II) into Space Opera. My idea was to have Finn draw a scene from Tamburlaine that he had not yet tackled, but to do so in a way that would combine his love of Marlowe’s play and his existing Druillet-inspired designs with ideas and motifs from works by Gustave Moreau, Barry Windsor-Smith, and others — some old favourites of mine, basically — and on Friday of last week, I received via Canada Post the completed page, which is absolutely stunning. I think it’s fair to say that Finn and I both had a blast working together to shape the final art, and I thought it might be fun and instructive to display it here at RCN along with some of the images that the page references.
While the choice of scene was mine, it was entirely Finn’s idea to break it down into a three-panel sequence, complete with balloons featuring the precise subsection of the dialogue between the First Virgin and Tamburlaine that I had mentioned in conversation that I like best, which was a cool surprise. (When I first contacted Finn, I had thought that I was commissioning an inked drawing, not a fully formed comics page, which I think anyone would view as a significant upgrade, but let’s just say that, as the process unfolded, we both got a bit carried away.) The term “XenoBramic” in the opening word balloon is an addition to Marlowe that may or may not appear in Tamburlaine: The Scourge of God, which, when it is published, will be Finn’s first professional credit in comics. Follow Finn on Twitter and/or Instagram for updates on the progress of his and Mahendra’s graphic novel. And publishers: there are still opportunities for a few brave souls worldwide to join the crew of Tamburlaine’s corsair, the Maa-Durga, which is already prowling the space lanes for plunder and booty, so hup to it!
In The Studio (Dragon’s Dream, 1979), on pages 103 and 104, Barry Windsor-Smith provides a brief account of the genesis of Whithering:
“In the spring of 1975 I was working on a pen and ink drawing of trees, just trees. It was inspired, in part, by a wonderful painting of old Hampstead Heath by John Constable. At that time I didn’t think my audience was ready for — or let’s say interested in — a new work by me that was ‘just trees.’ Constable himself had a witticism about painting some of his pictures with ‘eye salve.’ What he meant was that he would make a picture as commercial as possible if he needed to sell it. As I wanted the fantasy market to see my tree drawing, I took a tip from Constable and applied a little ‘fantastic eye balm’: right in the middle of the picture I drew a shrouded figure of Death — a skull-headed man — and off in the distance a dark, foreboding mansion. This made the trees seemingly incidental. I called it Whithering (p. 110)… a deliberate non sequitur.” […]
“One night I got a frenzied call from an associate in London. He’d just shown a reproduction of the picture to a much respected fellow artist whom I’d never met, and whom my associate had only just met. Over the crackling transatlantic line I heard him say, ‘Hey! Guess what!… I just showed Whithering to so-and-so and guess what he said, — ‘Ahh, Constable; those trees. Barry just stuck that dead bloke in there so he could get away with drawing trees, didn’t he’?… He knew! There were a few cackles of laughter and then he hung up; that was the end of the call. I was suffering from insomnia at the time, I recall I slept that night and glowed the next day.”
Does Windsor-Smith’s reminiscence rule out the influence of Doré’s composition on Whithering? I don’t think so, but if you check out the comments section of this post, you’ll find a reader who disagrees with me.
Three paintings of “Hampstead Heath” by John Constable:
From a 33-year-old catalogue of “original art for sale” entitled Cartoonists and Illustrator’s Portfolio Volume Three (Wyomissing, PA: Supergraphics, 1978), here’s a short interview with Barry Windsor-Smith, conducted by the catalogue’s publisher, James Steranko:
Revolutionary artist Barry Windsor-Smith takes on the Uncanny X-Men! The original X-Men go toe-to-toe against Blastaar, deadly menace from the Negative Zone! Storm and Forge find themselves trapped on a primitive paradise world with no hope of escape! Spiral and Lady Deathstrike target Wolverine for death! And Dazzler is hunted by the Marauders, with only the X-Men to save her!
“Arnold Drake (Author)”? Funny, I bought the LifeDeath comics, back in the day, and I don’t remember that at all… but anyway, it’ll be nice to have the work on my bookshelf in hardcover form… I just hope they don’t screw up the colour too badly…
Please don’t try to order anything from that old GbP address. I have no idea if GbP is still a going concern, but BWS has a lovely Web site, so it’s easy enough to contact him about his current offerings, such as his new print, Poetry, published by Glimmer Graphics.