Young Gods & Friends
Ask your average comic book artist for a list of influences and most of them will drop the name Jack Kirby. Barry Windsor-Smith went one step further with Young Gods and created an entire strip dedicated to Kirby, in homage to the latter's New Gods. However, whereas Kirby's gods spend much of their time contemplating the eternal struggle between good and evil, the battles of Windsor-Smith's gods are between the sexes.
The plot covers the run up to a wedding between Heros and Celestra, two gods from different worlds, getting hitched for the sake of good god relations. The night before his marriage, Heros is taken on a dragon-hunting expedition by his cousin Strangehands. On their way, they happen into Celestra's plain-talking sister Adastra, and invite her along for the ride.
Before we go on, we should issue a word of warning: this book isn't complete. This isn't because it's volume one of a number of books - though there are other books to come out in the series featuring other of Windsor-Smith's creations. No, this book really doesn't finish. The original run of the series was canned by its original publisher before it was completed and, to date, it remains that way. Part way through the volume the colours stop, then the panels get sketchy, the dialogue isn't lettered in and then it stops. That's it. Practically mid-sentence.
The remainder of the volume is taken up with material from Windsor-Smith's drawing board to help produce some kind of closure. There's a section where he makes an attempt at finishing the piece but gives up, blaming a lack of creative vigour on bad feeling surrounding the original cancellation of the book. There's another section where all his characters get together for a party to bitch about the way they've been treated by the original publisher. The support material and commentary from Windsor-Smith is a fascinating insight into the mind of the artist.
But despite the fact that it isn't finished, there's an endearing charm about the book. Windsor-Smith creates a smoke-screen in the fantasy setting: the frequently archaic language and the scantily clad female characters. But any of the pomposity - so frequently associated with fantasy literature of this nature - that Windsor-Smith lets in, is constantly undermined. He even destroys the basis of his world's very existence, by turning up in the middle of the plot to talk to the 'actors' and change the way the story is headed. Subtle, knowing humour runs throughout the book and it's all just a little bit bonkers.
Fantagraphics has made a beautiful effort at republishing it. The hardback, European album sized format is key to its charm, but also possibly most responsible for its early demise in its original incarnation. But this adds to its core effectiveness. It deserves to be collected, has a right to be marked on the comics map. It's derivative but blazes a path of its own. It's quirky - some might say bordering on the insane - but fun, ironic and charming. We're still aggrieved that it isn't complete though.
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Originally published as
Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller 1-9