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Friday, November 20, 2009

POST # 13 - "THE CITADEL AT THE CENTER OF TIME" by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

Hey, you know I like you, right?
I hope you realize that. I'll bet you don't know how much I like you...well, let me show you!
I like you so much that I went way above and beyond the call of duty with this post.  No mere 4 - 8 page story for you, uh uh...not today! You deserve a real treat, and I'm about to give it to you.

How would you like a full length Conan story?  But not just any Conan story, oh noo! How about a 44 page epic featuring not one, but two incredibly talented artists? Trust me, you're going to want to kiss me after you check out the stunningly gorgeous black and white artwork taken from Marvel's SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #7, 1975. While this particular story isn't based on any known Robert E. Howard story to my knowledge, the uncredited (likely Roy Thomas) story is a good one, and coupled with the beautiful visuals, it becomes a masterpiece.

This is the first post here to feature two artists, and both are fully deserving of credit. John Buscema started drawing comics for Stan Lee and Timely/Marvel comics in 1948. In the mid 60's he found himself back at Marvel where he became one of their most important, capable and best-loved artists. In 1973 he took over for Barry Smith drawing CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and he would soon become the artist most associated with the popular Robert E. Howard character. Now, let me say that personally I think Barry Smith is a wonderful artist, and his later Conan artwork was certainly more accomplished than his earlier stories. But, for those of us who had read the Lancer paperbacks and seen the iconic representation of Conan by Frazetta, Smith's Conan was a skinny kid. That just wasn't really Conan. Gil Kane did a wonderful job drawing two issues, but it really wasn't until John Buscema stepped in that we saw that real Conan again.  To me, and to many others, this was the way Conan should look, or at least the closest thing we had to the Frazetta version. A year later Marvel published the new black and white SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN, and of course Buscema would be the main artist in nearly every issue. A new phenomena was being born, and Buscema would be the architect behind the visual onslaught that was just beginning.

Starting in issue no. 2 of SAVAGE SWORD, Buscema was paired with a relative newcomer to American comic book readers, Alfredo Alcala. Alcala was born in the Philippines, where, like Buscema, he also would enter the comic business in 1948, working for the Philippines biggest publisher, Ace Publications. American audiences got their first exposure to Alcala's art in 1963 when he published his own creation, VOLTAR, a Viking in the sword and sorcery mold, very similar to the work he would be doing later in CONAN. Here is what the World Encyclopedia of Comics had to say regarding VOLTAR and Alcala: "...an astonishing display of sustained artistic endeavor. Every chapter contains a spectacular center spread. Each panel is embellished in an etching style that rivals the works of the old masters. Inch for inch, it is probably the most detailed art ever to appear in comic books." I couldn't have said it better. In the 70's he came to New York and was quickly recognized for his amazing pen and ink work, as you will soon discover (or re-discover) for yourself here.

As I was scanning this story, I can't tell you how many times I stopped and found myself saying "Wow!" right out loud as I examined each amazing page. To enjoy this story, you must not rush...have something to drink handy, maybe something to eat, your not going to want to go anywhere for the next few minutes. The combination of Buscema's Conan, his solid, exciting story-telling visual style, and Alcala's detailed, lush pen and brush work elevates the comic book to the level of fine illustration. This story is absolutely breath-taking!

You can thank me later...and never, ever doubt how much I like you!
Now, finally, I will shut up and let you feast your brain on...



Ishtar's Knotted Knickers! That was a BLAST! Well, see you next time, CROM willing!

Art by Boris Vallejo.



  1. Buscema's sturdy construction and dynamic draftsmanship really comes to life with the addition of Alcala's gorgeous pen and ink work. I suspect that Alcala may have been influenced by old, engraved illustrations as his line work strongly resembles copperplate engravings used to convert color or half-tone artwork to a printing plate for magazines.


  2. Alfredo is the perfect inker for Buscema~ some of it looks like Neal Adams as a result. Gil Kane had a wonderful short run on Conan later in the series, in which he inked his own pencils. Check GCD to pinpoint~ but I think it's around issues 127~132 ? Worth every penny from a Comic Shop's dollar bin !

  3. Aaron - That's it exactly, Alcala's style is definitely like old engraver's art, very Franklin Booth-ish, and it's just so eye appealing! ...and with Buscema's pencils, love it!
    Lysdexicuss - As mentioned, I would agree, Alcala's inking really brings Buscema's already great art to a whole new level, and he is my fave Conan inker. I'll have to look for those later Kane Conan's, Kane is in my top 10 faves and I did love his earlier 2 issues before Buscema took over.

    Thanks for your comments, gents!

  4. Apocolyte: Momma mia! What a great tale. What a magnificent example of the inker's art! The art is so overwhelming, you could almost miss the fine story by Thomas. To pick a favorite panel could drive a man to madness, but my vote would go to the full page splash on the title page for In the Shadow of Fear - the girl on the horse - makes one recall Gustave Dore. You will have to excuse me now - I must go off to the GCD to look up more from Alcala.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful stuff! I know what those scans cost you in time! Your dedication to your fellow comic lovers is greatly appreciated. -- Mykal

  5. Thanks, Mykal! The time spent scanning and posting is enjoyable regardless, but even more time consuming than even you might suspect...you see, I use one of the first scanners ever made, the SCHMINKLESCAN 240-S, which requires me to whip a fat guy riding a staionary bicycle in order to power the scanner. The 240 stands for 240 minutes, which is how long it takes to complete one scan. The "S" stands for 'slow'. So you see, that CONAN story took me 11 and a 1/2 months to scan. but, in the end, it's no big deal...once I repair my 'time travel 'device I will get all those hours back!

    There were so many beautiful panels, I was really overwhelmed when trying to choose a teaser/header image for this post. I could have shut my eyes and thrown a dart, but I couldn't harm such a beautiful page!