Tuesday 24 November 2009

Dwellers In The Dark

As mentioned previously the first extended games sequence in Cloud 109 is 'The Dungeon of Death' game, where Cary intends to pick up several hundred easy credits via some cheats that his I.T. pal Matt has supplied him with.

Things do not go strictly to plan and things start to go horribly awry for the team. The pages that I am working on were in David's original script an extended and very entertaining dialogue with the team stuck in a deep dark dungeon but the humour was all in the exchanges between each of the principle characters and the remains of Kevin, one of the long lost previous players of the game.

In terms of making the thing work visually I felt that I needed to add in a bit of extra business to underline rather than detract from the humour in David's script. This provided me with a great opportunity to add some references to earlier examples of what used to be referred to as 'sword and sorcery sagas'. The monster that greets Gina, Cary and Rabby when they restore a little light to their darkness owes much to some of the more disturbing creatures that inhabit the depths of a now ancient computer game called "Dungeon Master" in fact our creature is a combination of the dread purple worms, which infest certain levels of Dungeon Master and are hideously difficult to overwhelm but even they are small beer when compared to the puissance of the Beholder a floating wizard's eye that spits poison (one hit and your toast). So I thought I'd combine the two which is where our giant maggot comes from.

In addition and as a pre-cursor to the world of Dungeon Master lies the work of the brilliant but manic depressive American pulp writer Robert E. Howard and in particular his character Conan the Barbarian. Conan's world is beset by casual violence, manipulative women, evil sorcerors and at the end of it all unspeakable horrors usually lurking in deep dank and dark dungeons and this stuff was obviously as much a source of inspiration to the programmers of Dungeon Master as was the more high profile writings of J.R. Tolkein.

Conan was first projected into mainstream consciousness by the masterful cover artistry of Frank Frazetta who created iconic images for most of the paperback reprints of the Conan saga throughout the late sixties, but it was the superb artwork of a young Englishman Barry Smith combined with brilliant adaptations by Marvel scribe Roy Thomas that made the lasting impact when Conan was launched as a monthly comic by Marvel in 1970.

These comics were utterly brilliant and it was a real joy to see the maturing style of the then very young Barry Smith as he commited himself with unparalled devotion to this project. Here's a couple of pages the colour sample is from 'The Tower of the Elephant' and the greyscale page is from 'The Dweller in the Dark'.

Lovely stuff eh?


  1. I remember being blown away by Barry Smith's Conan work from the moment I tore off the brown wrapper (it was one of two Marvel mags I actually subscribed to) from my copy of issue 3. "The Grim Grey God" - fabulous stuff.

    I even started trying to draw like Smith in art periods at school. He really created an amazing fantasy world with a combination of squalor (muddy streets, dank prisons) and beauty (no one can match him for jewelled minarets against a starry night sky).

    Thank Crom that when I sold most of my Marvel collection in the mid-70s, at least I had the sense to hold onto the complete set of Conan!

  2. Wise move Dave, I also held onto my collection and like you, am glad I did.

    I was getting semi-excited at the prospect of Dark Horse publishing the Complete Barry Smith Conan archives in a similar format to the excellent Marvel Omnibus's. After years of negative fan feedback about the quality of their reprints Marvel went back to the original colouring and also cleaned and restored glicky artwork most notably with their Steve Ditko Spiderman Omnibus.

    Having made a terrible hash with their earlier re-colouring of Smith's Conan DH proudly announced that they would be re-presenting the classic Conan tales with the original colours which Barry originally provided colour guides for but unbelievably they've now decided to re-run their earlier crappy computer coloured version instead citing financial reasons and lack of time as the ultimate arbiter of this decision.

    I would urge anybody reading this to avoid this reprint when it appears and seek out the original comics or some of Marvel's better reprints (Conan Saga Magazine springs to mind) instead.

  3. I just realized. The Tower of the Elephant, that's the same plot as the captive Dalek episode in the first season of Doctor Who. Sort of.

  4. Nothing new, everything recycled. Actually it's great fun trying to spot some of these TV plunderings, there was a bunch of U.S. writers creating scripts for UK TV series such as Robin Hood in the '50's and '60's and they did it all the time. There's two episodes of William Tell where this is really apparent, one of which is a reworking of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and the other (very impressive as it had to be compacted down to half and hour) is a reworking of "Bad Day at Black Rock".

    The scripters concerned were all ex Hollywood scribes such as Ring Lardner who had quit the U.S. as a result of Senator McCarthy's ongoing investigation into "Un American Activities".