Sunday, 19 August 2007

The Drab Garb of Solomon Kane


Comic Book Resources has posted an interview with Dark Horse Comics editor and writer Scott Allie, discussing his upcoming series about Robert E Howard’s Solomon Kane.

As Allie notes, “Of the three main Robert E. Howard characters — Conan, Kull, and Kane — Kane's the one that exists in an actual historical era — the end of the sixteenth century. He's a Puritan adventurer with a military history and he's driven by a sense of vengeance.”

Howard’s stories and poems do indeed place Solomon Kane at the end of the sixteenth century. He was present when Sir Francis Drake executed Thomas Doughty in 1578, and served under Sir Richard Grenville when his ship the Revenge single-handedly fought a 53-ship Spanish fleet in 1591. Both of these were real events.

But pictures of Solomon Kane always show him in the clothes of the mid-to-late 17th century, as in Gary Gianni’s fine illustrations (above and below) to the 1998 edition of The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.


In real life, men in the late Elizabethan period looked like this:



The appearance of fighting men who could not afford to have their portraits painted has been reconstructed like this:



I am not sure where the depiction of Kane as a 17th century version of the Shadow started. There does not seem to have been a single moment when a definitive version of Solomon Kane was created (unlike Howard’s better known character, Conan, whose appearance was fixed by Frank Frazetta’s paperback covers in the 1960s, which marked a sharp break from the short-haired, blandly handsome version who appeared in illustrations to the original publication of the stories in Weird Tales). The way that Gianni portrayed Kane was consistent with the appearance of the character in various Marvel comics of the 1970s and 1980s.




The Marvel version, in turn, drew on the covers painted by Jeff Jones for 1960s small-press book collections.




But, as you can see, the Jones version is quite vague in its details. Those are the earliest pictures of Solomon Kane that I have found. If there were any illustrations to his appearances in Weird Tales, I would love to see them, but I haven’t yet.

So far as I know, only one artist has given Solomon Kane a distinctly different appearance: Howard Chaykin in a story for Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan.


But I find it hard to recommend this version. The tabard and hooped rugby-jersey sleeves seem neither in period nor in character.

So why is Kane always depicted anachronistically? Partly, I think, because the word “puritan” always throws up images of roundheads, pilgrim fathers and Salem witch-hunters, although it was in use, mostly as an insult, earlier than that. But in part, it is just that, even when toned down (as in Shakespeare in Love), Elizabethan menswear, with its stiff doublets and hose, pantaloons and ruffs, looks distinctly silly to 21 century eyes.

Will Dark Horse take up the challenge of creating a different but historically appropriate Solomon Kane? Or will they stick with the familiar, easy but anachronistic version? We’ll have to wait and see.


Pictures and panels
Illustrations by Gary Gianni to Robert E Howard The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, Wandering Star Books and Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 1998

Anonymous Sir Walter Raleigh and his Son, c 1591, National Portrait Gallery, London, reproduced in Francois Boucher A History of Costume in the West, Thames & Hudson, 1966

Isaac Oliver The Three Brothers Brown, 1598, Collection of Lord Exeter at Burlington House, photo by Courtauld Institute of Art, reproduced in Francois Boucher A History of Costume in the West, Thames & Hudson, 1966

Plates by Richard Hook for John Tincey The Armada Campaign 1588, Osprey Books Elite Serries no 15, 1988

Solomon Kane “The Hills of the Dead”, script by Roy Thomas, adapted from the story by Robert E Howard, art by Alan Weiss and Neal Adams, Kull and the Barbarians issue 2, Marvel Comics, July 1975, reprinted in The Savage Sword of Conan issue 16, Marvel UK, February 1979

Solomon Kane “The Prophet!” by Ralph Macchio (scripter), Mike Mignola (penciller), Al Williamson (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Bob Sharen (colourist) and Carl Potts (editor), (The Sword of) Solomon Kane issue 4, Marvel Comics, March 1986

Jeff Jones, cover illustration to Robert E Howard Red Shadows, Donald Grant books, 1968, scan taken from the Howard Works website

Jeff Jones, cover illustration to Robert E Howard The Moon of Skulls, Centaur Press, 1969, scan taken from the Howard Works website

Jeff Jones, cover illustration to Robert E Howard The Hand of Kane, Centaur Press, 1970, scan taken from the Howard Works website

Solomon Kane “Rattle of Bones", script by Roy Thomas, adapted from the story by Robert E Howard, art by Howard Chaykin, Savage Sword of Conan issue 18, Marvel Comics, April 1977, reprinted in The Savage Sword of Conan issue 20, Marvel UK, June 1979

4 comments:

Scott said...

The reason for the anachronisms in the imagery of Kane is that there were abundant anachronisms in the prose. I'm not sure how we're gonna handle it yet, but you've given me some things to think about.

Steve Flanagan said...

"... there were abundant anachronisms in the prose."

A fair point, and one faced by many adaptors of historical fiction.

Jonathan Miller, thinking particularly of Shakespeare, used to recommend staging plays to represent the period in which they were written, rather than the period in which they were set. But then Kane really would look like the Shadow, so perhaps not!

Anonymous said...

That Chaykin-drawn (and Roy Thomas-scripted) Kane story for Marvel Comics' [i]Savage Sword]/i] b/w mag was a direct and immediate follow-up to their adaptation of "Red Shadows" over two issues of the Code-approved/four-color line's [i]Marvel Premiere[/i], featuring that same visual design for Solomon. Just FYI.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I had to post the above as anonymous. I didn't remember having a google account, but when I tried to make a new one, it said one with my email address already existed. When I tried to log in to it with my best guess as to what I would have used as a password, it said my email address itself did not exist (NOT my submitted password guess). So I selected anonymous and then "preview," with the expectation of adding an explanation of all this if it worked, but it simply posted instead. Hence, those italics coders that, obviously now, don't work on these boards. Real nice system you've got here. (This one DID "preview," BTW.)