No. 211 – Den (& Conan)

Den 2: Muvovum image ©Richard Corben

Sláine: The Horned God Vol. II Part 9 written by Pat Mills and illustrated by Simon Bisley from prog 663 (1990) v Den [represented left panel, centre], created by Richard Corben, and Conan the Barbarian [represented left panel, right], created in 1931 by Robert E. [Ervin] Howard (1906–1936), most famously illustrated by Frank Frazetta (1928–2010)[1]

Den (an acronym of the character’s Earth alter-ego David Ellis Norman) began life as an award-winning animated short in 1969, but made his comics debut in Grim Wit No. 2 (1973), then appearing in first Métal Hurlant (Les Humanoïdes Associés, 1975–1976), Heavy Metal (HM Communications, Inc., 1977–1978, 1981–1983) and thereafter published by Corben’s own Fantagor Press. The Den series is composed of Neverwhere (1978), Muvovum (1984), Children of Fire [a prequel to the events of Neverwhere] (Fantagor, 1992), Dreams (Fantagor, 1992) and Elements (Fantagor, 1992).

Generally wandering around completely in the buff and – despite having built himself an inter-dimensional portal – considerably dimmer (but better endowed) than pretty much any other life-form he encounters in the fantasy universe of Neverwhere, Den is nonetheless sincere to the point of outright innocence, even if the stories are a little chauvinistic by today’s standards. Den reappeared in animation in 1981 in a much-abridged version of the events of Neverwhere [the comic] in the segment Den in Heavy Metal (Columbia Pictures)[2]. The beautifully illustrated Den series is also one of the earliest fully painted, long-running strips on the comics scene, and thus richly deserving of Bisley’s homage.

Richard Corben is the winner of the 2009 Spectrum Grand Master Award and the 2018 Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. He was elected to the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2012.

Richard Corben also features in our very first HoH entry, No. 1 – Bat Out of Hell

Notes:

  1. Howard’s (and Frazetta’s) Conan the Barbarian appears HoH No. 79 – Sláine the Barbarian
  2. The idea of the malevolent Loc-Nar used to link the segments in Heavy Metal originated in the Den stories

No. 130 – Sláine


Sláine [Irish for “integrity”] futuregraph by Simon Bisley v Cú Chulainn by J.C. Leyendecker (1874–1951) [not necessarily this particular image]

Born Sétanta and acquiring the nickname Cú Chulainn (“Culann’s Hound”) in his early youth, this mythological hero is largely unknown outside Ireland; the preference being for more folksy heroes such as Finn mac Cumhaill of the Fenian and Oisínian Cycles, particularly among Irish-Americans, rather than the tales of the more brutal and earthy Ulster Cycle, the events of which took place about 300 years earlier, around the time of the birth of Christ.

Writer Pat Mills’ (along with co-creator Angela Kincaid) exquisitely adapted Sláine draws deeply from a rich resource of Celtic mythology with which most Irish school children will be all too familiar, whether thrilled or bored.

Recommend further reading: Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race by T. W. Rolleston (1855–1920) as it summarises everything from the earliest mythological invasions of Ireland, including the stories preceding and following the events of Táin Bó Cúailnge [“The Cattle Raid of Cooley” or more commonly The Táin; the Ulster Cycle’s epic saga relating the deeds of Cú Chulainn; variously described as “Ireland’s own Iliad,” and “basically one long obituary of all the people he killed”], up to and including the Arthurian legends, and which contains wonderfully Victorian footnotes along the lines of, “the ancient Celts do seem to have quite a keen sense of honour and duty for a bunch of backward savages.”

Should one feel up to the task of tackling The Táin itself, Thomas Kinsella’s translation is to be preferred to Ciaran Carson’s more recent translation as it provides more context to the events of The Táin, and more of the glorious “… and he didn’t think it too many” idioms that Mills adopted in Sláine – it was indeed to Kinsella’s translation that Mills referred.2000AD Megaverse on Facebook

No. 95 – Braveheart

Prog 1034’s Sláine cover by Dermot Power vs. theatrical poster for Mel Gibson’s Braveheart (Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox, 1995)

The Latin word “picti” first occurs in a Roman panegyric in AD 297, and is taken to mean “painted or tattooed people”, from Latin “pictus”, meaning “painted”. What the Picts called themselves is not known. What is known, however, is that the Pictish practice of adorning themselves with blue woad before going into battle was about 1,000 years out of date by William Wallace’s (1270–1305) time.

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No. 83 – Heeeere’s Sláine!

Glenn Fabry’s Sláine (written by Pat Mills) cover for prog 448 vs. Jack Torrence (played by Jack Nicholson) from Stanley Kubrick’s (1928–1999) The Shining (1980)

… with perhaps a little of The Road Warrior (Warner Bros., 1982) thrown in

Jack’s line, “Heeeere’s Johnny!”, references Ed McMahon’s (1923–2009) famous introduction to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1925–2005 [Carson, not the show (NBC, 1962–1992)]).

Stranded red Volkswagen Beetle in The Shining

While Ridley Scott’s borrowing [with permission] of some of Kubrick’s Shining footage for his original ending of Blade Runner (Warner Bros., 1982) is old news, another interesting nugget of speculative trivia is that Kubrick included a crushed red Volkswagen Beetle on the road as Hallorann (Scatman Crothers (1910–1986)) drives up to the Overlook Hotel, as an aside to Stephen King, the author of The Shining (Doubleday, 1977), upon which Kubrick’s film is based. The Torrences did indeed drive a red Volkswagen Beetle in King’s book, but a yellow 1973 Beetle sedan in the film – not the sort of detail change an obsessive stickler like Kubrick was wont to miss nor make unintended – and the inclusion of the wreaked vehicle later in the film is thought to be a subtle signal to King and/or his readership that this was very much going to be Kubrik’s story and not his, and indeed the plots of the two diverge considerably towards the end, much to King’s vocal disappointment at the time.

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No. 79 – Sláine the Barbarian

Glenn Fabry’s cover for Sláine the King (Titan Books, 1987; reprinted from progs 500519 (1986–1987)) v Frank Frazetta’s (1928–2010) The Barbarian (1965)

A man who took eccentricity to the point of farce, Conan creator Robert E. Howard (1906–1936) claimed to have been inspired to write the stories by an apparition of Conan himself, which stood over his shoulder expounding as Howard transferred the stories to paper, ultimately producing 21 stories and four unfinished stories, presumably when the apparition nodded off.

Conan the Barbarian (or Conan the Cimmerian) began life as a series of fantasy – or more accurately “sword and sorcery”, as it became known; a genre epitomised by Howard’s own creation – in the pages of Weird Tales magazine (Rural Publishing Corporation) in 1932.

No. 29 – Rank Film

Rank logo ©Rank Group

Clint Langley’s Sláine[1] cover for prog 1638 (2009) v Rank Film Distributors Ltd. logo

The Rank Organisation was founded by British industrialist Joseph Arthur Rank, 1st Baron Rank [The Lord Rank] (1888– 1972) in 1936, when he went into partnership with film maker C.M. Woolf (1879–1942) to form General Film Distributors, which in 1936 was incorporated in Rank’s General Cinema Finance Corporation, and renamed J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors in 1955. It was Woolf’s secretary who came up with the idea for the man-with-a-gong trademark adopted shortly after the company’s foundation in 1937.

Notes:

  1. Sláine created by Pat Mills and Angie Kincaid